Science & Nature: How to Save the Whale ; Japan Is Planning to Kill More Whales in the Name of Research. but Could New Techniques Give Them the Information They Need without the Slaughter? SANJIDA O'CONNELL Reports
Sanjida O'Connell, The Independent (London, England)
Today, Japan will announce plans to slaughter an extra 260 whales in the North Pacific, on top of its annual kill of 500 Minke whales in the Antarctic. Although the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has held a moratorium on whale hunting since 1986, over the past five years Japan has issued itself "scientific permits" which the country claims allow it to continue hunting. Japan's latest proposals on extending its whaling will be announced at the IWC's annual conference which begins this week in Shimonoseki, Japan.
Many of the countries affiliated to the IWC see the Japanese permit system as a way of circumventing the moratorium. The counter- argument put forward by the Japanese government's Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) in Tokyo is that it is necessary to kill whales in order to provide much needed scientific data which will help all countries manage whale stocks. Japans says that since it would be a waste to dispose of the rest of the whale, whales caught for research purposes can legitimately end up in Japanese restaurants.
Many critics of whale hunting disagree. Dr Vassili Papastavrou, the International Federation for Animal Welfare's (IFAW) whale expert, says that the Japanese are paying lip-service to science in order to continue whaling. "What they are doing has no scientific value," he says, "it is 101 things to do with a dead whale."
Dr Nick Gales has stepped into the controversy having developed a unique and non-lethal way of obtaining similar data to the Japanese - by sampling whale faeces. Gales, from the Antarctic Section of the Department of the Environment in Australia, will also be presenting his research at this week's conference. Carried out on blue and baleen whales, the research shows that that DNA analysis can reveal what the whales are eating, what kinds of parasites they harbour, their sex and each individual's identity.
By killing whales the Japanese say they are able to examine their stomach contents and determine what the animals have been eating. Japan believes its fishing industry is in decline because whales eat so much fish.
The head of the ICR, Dr Seiji Ohsumi, calculated that whales eat between three and six times the amount of fish humans eat. This amounts to a worldwide catch of 280 million to 500 million tons of fish a year. When these statistics were presented to the IWC, many of the anti-whaling countries protested that the figures were erroneous because they were based on false estimations and that no one really knows how many whales are left. The ICR argues that this figure must be even higher given that their estimations were based on 35 populations of whales, not the 80 groups of whales known to exist throughout the world.
However, removing whales would not necessarily increase fish stocks because whales may not actually eat the same kind of fish as humans. …