Japanese whalers are on their way to the Southern Ocean. This JARPA II fleet has attracted more attention than usual because of the inclusion of humpback whales in the annual kill quota.
The mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, has “RESEARCH” emblazoned on her hull, and when questioned on the humpback whale component of this year’s quota, spokesperson Hideki Moronuki said “Japan is conducting truly scientific research activities, we have to decide anything from the viewpoint of science.” However, a recent publication in science journal Nature questioned the science behind Japan’s research program and when the program was reviewed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in late 2006, the following was found:
“JARPA had the potential to improve management of minke whales in the Southern Ocean, but such an outcome has not been realised, despite nearly two decades of effort by a large and well-funded research laboratory in Tokyo.”
Major JARPA objectives are largely unachieved, notably:
– the data were not accepted under the IWC’s method for managing whale populations and assigning catch limits;
– efforts to estimate natural mortality had produced confidence intervals that ‘spanned such a wide range that the parameter remains effectively unknown’;
– data on trends in abundance were so imprecise that they could be interpreted as consistent with anything from a decline to an increase;
– efforts to elucidate the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem had led to ‘relatively little progress, even allowing for the complexities of the subject.
“Despite these failings the government of Japan stated at the 2007 International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee meeting that the objectives and methods of the full-scale JARPA II program would remain unchanged and the justification for the numbers of animals killed remains unclear”.
The ‘Plan for the Second Phase of the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA II) – Monitoring of the Antarctic Ecosystem and Development of New Management Objectives for Whale Resources’ says “Changes in the pregnancy rate and age at sexual maturity are very important since they indicate changes in the trend of abundance or shifts in prey conditions.” A sample size of 50 for both fin and humpback whales was chosen, despite the fact that during the 18-year JARPA program no significant trends could be found for these parameters in minke whales regardless of having “an annual sample size that was almost an order of magnitude greater than those planned for humpback and fin whales.”
Will JARPA II tell us more about these species in order to manage them effectively?
The IWC already has a comprehensive assessment process in order to evaluate whale stocks. In 2006 a Comprehensive Assessment of Southern Hemisphere humpback whales was held, and attended by Japan. Research priorities included: “Describe the genetic structure of seven putative southern hemisphere breeding populations; quantify the complex linkages between high-latitude feeding grounds and breeding stocks; and, estimate the abundance of breeding stocks.”
Some of this research is already being conducted by Australian scientists using non-lethal methods. JARPA II’s lethal research will not address any of these objectives, although the non-lethal sightings component will. The researchers write that “Japan’s proposal to kill humpback whales is not scientifically credible, and will potentially disrupt ongoing non-lethal research programs directed at filling knowledge gaps identified for the Comprehensive Assessment.”
The whole question of science’s role in JARPA II is further brought into question by the authors of the Nature article (all members of the IWC Scientific Committee)who have stated, “The promulgation of a lethal research program that targets low-priority science, with a demonstrably low likelihood of achieving its stated objectives, appears unsupportable when viewed solely in a scientific context…the Government of Japan remains impervious to any influence from the broader scientific community. It is time to acknowledge that the debate about research whaling has little or nothing to do with science. Indeed, by insisting that this form of whaling is scientifically valid, Japan forces the Scientific Committee to remain dead-locked, ultimately to the detriment of the IWC’s credibility and function.”
Perhaps Japan’s justification for her research is best summed up by Minoru Morimoto, head of the Institute for Cetacean Research, “Japan’s research makes a valuable contribution to the management of Antarctic whale species to ensure that any future commercial whaling regime is robust and sustainable to provide a reliable food source for generations to come.”
by Annie in Australia