Subject: Re: Protected Whales

Al Romero (aromero@ACC.FAU.EDU)
Mon, 07 Apr 1997 13:35:51 -0500 (EST)

>Date: Mon, 07 Apr 1997 12:14:22
>From: Al Romero <>
>Subject: Re: 
>>My name is Anne Groth and I have a few questions about the way whales are
being >protected in the wild. After a whale has been put on the endangered
list in >what way are the specie watched to make sure that the whale has, in
fact, >protection? How can the scientist's tell if a protected whale is
being killed?
>> I would like it if you could answer this letter as soon as possible.
>>My e-mail is
>>      Thank you for your time
>Dear Anne:
>The organism in charge of watching over the protection status of whales and
other marine mammals is the International Whaling Commission or IWC. This is
an international organization created after World War II, whose members
(originally whaling nations, but more recently including many non-whaling
one) started by establishing "quotas" or maximum number of whales that each
neation could capture every year. As studies of many species showed a great
decline in the number of individuals for those species, the IWC established
a "moratorium" (or period of time in which no capturing was to take place)
so the populations of different species could recover their original levels
or number of individuals. Some have recovered, others have not.
>Some countries members of the IWC argue that the time to go out and capture
whales again has come and are proposing to resume whaling.
>Since the IWC is a voluntary organization, it has no enforcement power to
stop the capturing of whales by any nation.  Some, like Japan, Iceland, and
Norway, are resuming the killing of these animals saying that in some cases
(like the minke whale) there are enough of them to be exploited. In other
cases they say that they need to capture these animals for scientific
purposes (although the meat may end up in some supermarkets as is the case
of Japan). Others even argue that whaling is a "traditional fishing
practice" and that it should be allowed to continue for some fishing
communities or for ethnic groups such as the inuits (skimos).  These nations
are supposed to report the total number of whales taken by them every year.
>The way whales are counted (populational studies) varies.  It is based on
direct observations using line transect and mark/recapture methods.  The
line transect method consists in counting along a particular route the
estimate of whales for that area.  If that area covers, let's say 10% of the
area populated by that particular species of whale, then you multiply the
number of whales you observed by 10.
>The mark/recapture method consisted originally in marking the whales with
tags. Today, given that nearly all whales and dolphins have marks on their
bodies the animals are photograhed, identified and even named based on those
marks.  Then, the next time around (usually the next year at the same time
and same place), you count how many whales that you had seen before can be
found in the group you are observing the second time around.  Let's say that
the first time you observed 20 whales. The second time 1 whale per every 10
of the previuously observed can be seen. That means that your 1 whale
represents 10% of the population and since you had observed 20 the year
before the total population must be 200 (10 x 20 = 200).
>Some corrections are made based on the biology of the species being studied
(for example, migration and reproductive patterns), and scientists apply a
number of mathematical techniques to calculate the number of individuals
still around.  As scientific as this process looks, the fact of the matter
is that there is much disagreement on the results obtained by diferent
methods of calculation. That is why many propose the most conservative
approach of keeping the moratorium until there is a better understanding of
their status.  Other, of course, add the humane argument that no matter how
many there may be, whales are beautiful and intelligent animals whose
capturing does not solve any human problem (like need for food or industrial
products) and in consequence they should be left alone.
>This is a very complicated issue with a lot of political and commercial
arguments which sometimes mask the scientific facts.
>If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
>Best wishes,
Aldemaro Romero, Ph.D.		
Florida Atlantic University	(954)236-1125	
College of Liberal Arts		(954)236-1150 (F)
Department of Biology
2912 College Ave.,
Davie, FL 33314