From: Dr. David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation
Published June 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Scientific Whaling Program Weak on Science -- An ENN Commentary

I'm no economist, but from my understanding of the basics, when supply overshoots demand, prices will drop and producers will generally lower production accordingly.

Well, simple economics apparently doesn't apply to whaling. This week, the Japanese government asked the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to double its annual whaling quota of Antarctic minke whales to nearly 1,000 animals. It also wants to take an additional 50 humpback and 50 fin whales. At the same time, demand for whale meat in Japan is in serious decline.

So why expand the hunt now? Japan says the move will further "scientific research." Critics say it is really a thinly disguised expansion of commercial whaling. Whatever Japan's motives are, the reality is that there has been little scientific benefit from its whaling program and, interestingly, increasingly smaller economic benefits.

Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986 when whale populations the world over crashed and public sentiment turned against whale hunts. Since then, Japan has killed more than 8,000 whales for "scientific research" and sold the meat. However, as sales have declined, the Japanese government has started promoting whale meat through product giveaways and whale cookbooks in hopes of renewing consumer interest.

With whale meat demand dropping, it seems like a strange time for Japan to be doubling its catch. Of course, Japan insists that its interest in whaling is scientific, not economic. However, according to an analysis by a group of researchers from Australia, Japan and the United States recently published in the journal Nature, Japan's whaling program is also of dubious scientific value.


For example, the scientific whaling program has been operating for 18 years, yet it has resulted in very few published papers. None of them has appeared in the International Whaling Commission's own journal, in spite of the journal's emphasis on stock management - a supposed focal point of the Japanese program. And only one published paper by the program in any journal over nearly two decades has been relevant to the issue of species management.

If Japan carries out its expanded program, over the next 18 years whalers will take some 17,000 minke whales, 820 fin whales and 800 humpback whales from the Antarctic, in addition to an expanded Pacific hunt. According to the Japanese proposal, the increased hunt will benefit ecosystems - including whales. It argues that a selective cull of humpbacks and fins will reduce competition for food (krill) with the endangered blue whale, thereby increasing the world's largest animal's chance of recovering.Critics, however, point out that competition amongst whale species is hardly a major issue today, as whale populations are a mere fraction of what they were a century ago. Furthermore, population trends for all whale species are highly uncertain. Finally, the research used to justify the Japanese hypothesis is largely from unreviewed and unpublished data collected through Japan's own controversial program.

All this makes it exceptionally difficult to justify an expanded hunt, especially since humpback whales are internationally listed as a threatened species and fin whales are endangered. Faced with an array of ocean threats, including pollution and climate change, many whale populations could not handle the added burden of hunting.

There is no credible scientific basis for expanding Japan's whale hunt. Nor is there much of an economic one. Giving away blubber ice cream, as the Japanese government did in 2002 to encourage citizens to develop a taste for the stuff, hardly amounts to a strong and growing market. The IWC clearly needs to reexamine the justification of whaling in the name of science. If Japan's program is any indication, there's little knowledge to be gained.

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Source: An ENN Commentary

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