Magazine article Science News

The Old Crowd: Minke Whales Have Long Thrived in Antarctic Seas

Magazine article Science News

The Old Crowd: Minke Whales Have Long Thrived in Antarctic Seas

Article excerpt

New genetic studies of whale meat from Tokyo grocery stores appear to strengthen the case for protecting Antarctica's minke whales against renewed hunting.

The DNA from minke samples shows such genetic diversity that the Antarctic population must have been extensive for the past 200,000 years, says a Stanford University researcher. That long history challenges the view of some whaling advocates that the 8-meter-long minkes used to be rare in Antarctica but flourished as other whales dwindled. This boom supposedly keeps populations of bigger, competing whales from growing.

"There is no evidence" for such an idea, says geneticist Steve Palumbi, who surveyed the meat of minkes. "They're not weeds in the Antarctic that need to be culled so other populations can come up."

As nations jockey to prevent or promote whaling, estimates of how many whales have lived in various locations have raised international debates. Full-scale commercial whaling has been suspended since 1986, when the plunging numbers of many species moved the International Whaling Commission to declare a moratorium.

Several nations, such as Japan, have lobbied for renewing hunts of certain species. And Japan has permitted its fleet to catch some whales--400 Antarctic minkes this season, for example--for research. Scientists have published papers about that catch, but the meat typically ends up in stores. Critics have protested the research and charged that it mostly amounts to an excuse to go on whaling. …

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