Subject: Case Study: DEBATE ON WHALE RESEARCH

Michael Williamson (whe_william)
Mon, 6 Mar 1995 23:47:55

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Case Study: DEBATE ON WHALE RESEARCH
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Subj:	DEBATE ON WHALE RESEARCH
 
Date:         Sun, 5 Mar 1995 17:46:28 -0800
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From:         Alan Macnow <amacnow@igc.apc.org>
Subject:      DEBATE ON WHALE RESEARCH
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        FROM: Alan Macnow
              Consultant, Japan Whaling Association
 
        RE: Debate on whale research
 
        In recent days, opponents and proponents of whaling (along with
        some neutral observers) have engaged in lively debate over the
        Japanese whale research program in Antarctic waters.  Un-
        fortunately, much of the debate has been poorly informed, par-
        ticularly in regard to the purposes of the research, the number
        of whales taken, and the effect upon the stocks.
 
        In order to shed some light on the subject, the following is of-
        fered:
 
        PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH:
 
        In 1982, the IWC voted to impose a moratorium on commercial
        whaling until uncertainties in whale population data could be
        resolved and an improved management procedure developed.  Many
        IWC members felt that there were not enough data about some
        species and stocks to determine with any degree of precision
        such essential elements for management as population abundance,
        pregnancy rates, natural mortality rates, age at sexual
        maturity, and annual recruitment rates.  Although substantial
        data had been collected from years of commercial whaling, it was
        felt that such data were not representative of the populations
        as a whole because they had been collected from only the oldest
        and largest whales, the primary targets of the commercial
        whalers.
 
        Several years later, the IWC Scientific Committee was instructed
        by the IWC to develop a whaling management procedure that would
        safeguard whale species and stocks on an area by area basis even
        in the absence of precise biological data.  The new procedure,
        termed the Revised Management Procedure or RMP, uses the assump-
        tion of a high probability of error in all of the input data to
        produce very highly conservative catch quotas.  The RMP in-
        corporates the most conservative population assessment methods
        consistent with the science of population dynamics.  Basically,
        the core procedure of the RMP needs: (1) an estimate of the
        abundance of a whale population from sightings surveys together
        with an estimate of the statistical uncertainty associated with
        it; and (2) a conservative estimate of the productivity (annual
        increase percentage) of the population. This core procedure is
        often called the catch limit algorithm.
 
        Before the moratorium, annual catches of minke whales in
        Antarctic waters numbered about 7,000, based upon calculated
        productivity from a mature population estimated to number
        110,000 animals.  Since then, more accurate estimates based upon
        over a decade of sightings surveys revealed the population to be
        much greater.  The current estimate is 760,000 mature animals.
 
        Japan's current research program began in the 1987/88 Antarctic
        summer season.  It is a multipurpose program designed to resolve
        uncertainties in the population dynamics of the Antarctic minke
        whale, assess the effects of the ecology, determine migration,
        schooling, and age and sex segregation patterns, and develop
        reliable DNA sampling technology.  Sightings surveys are an im-
        portant and integral part of the research program.  The program
        is funded by the government of Japan and from the proceeds from
        the sale of whale meat.  The research program is conducted by
        the Institute of Cetacean Research.
 
        The Japanese research program calls for the random sampling of
        300 minke whales, plus or minus 10%, per year for a period of 16
        years.  This is only 0.04% of the mature population of 760,000
        animals.  During the 16 years of the research a total of 4,800
        minke whales will be taken from the population, but as the popu-
        lation reproduces at a net rate of better than 4% per year
        (30,400 animals), at least 486,400 minkes will be added to the
        stocks during that period.  The IWC Scientific Committee rea-
        sonably concluded that the Japanese research takings will have
        no adverse effects on the stock.
 
        SAMPLE SIZE:
        A number of Internet readers feel that an annual take of 300
        minke whales is excessive.  One even suggested that a single
        whale would suffice.  On the other hand, some scientists famil-
        iar with statistics, sampling, and reliability factors suggested
        that the number is much too low.  Dr. K. Radway Allen, in his
        book _Conservation and Management of Whales_ (Washington Univer-
        sity Press) stated: "(recruitment rate) estimates are relatively
        free from (sampling) bias if they are based on a total sample
        size of 1,000 animals or more, but below this size the bias in-
        creases rapidly, and values based on samples of only a few hun-
        dred animals may be underestimated by as much as 50%. (30% in
        the case of estimates of age at recruitment)"  In the case of
        the Japanese research, the scientists determined that they could
        obtain precise estimates for the mortality rate, age at recruit-
        ment, etc., and ensure minimal impact upon the stocks, by taking
        only a small proportion of the large minke population each year
        for 16 years.
 
        NEED FOR SAMPLING
        Some critics of the Japanese research question the need to take
        any minke whales at all.  They point out that the IWC's RMP was
        designed to operate without the need for such biological data as
        sex composition of stocks, age at sexual maturity, natural
        mortality rate, pregnancy rates, and other information that al-
        lows calculation of the productivity of the stocks.  The way the
        RMP works, an arbitrarily low productivity rate of one half of
        one percent of the population is established as the initial
        catch limit, then periodic sightings surveys are used to see if
        the stocks increase, decrease or remain stable under the catch
        limit.  If the stocks decrease, the catch quota is lowered or
        eliminated.  If the stocks remain stable or increase, the catch
        limit may be raised.  This is essentially a trial and error pro-
        cess with a feedback mechanism.  However, the RMP does not
        preclude biological data.  Biological data, in fact, will make
        the RMP more precise, reduce the trial and error dependency, and
        - - in the case of the large minke whale populations - - allow
        greater sustainable utilization.
 
        Some ill-informed critics contend that much of the biological
        data sought by the research can be obtained by DNA techniques,
        without the need to kill whales.  Unfortunately, DNA sampling
        techniques have not yet been perfected for whales in the open
        ocean.  Even if they were, they could reveal such things as sex
        composition, stock composition, and pregnancy rates but not age.
        Accurate age data is essential in calculating age at sexual
        maturity and the age composition of the stocks, both vital in
        determining the productivity of the stocks.  And neither DNA
        techniques nor sightings can tell scientists very much about the
        health and pathology of the stocks.  Is some virus afflicting
        the whales, or parasites?  Are heavy metals from pollution caus-
        ing cancers, a reduction in reproductive ability, or other dis-
        orders?  Are the stocks suffering from malnutrition or changes
        in the ecology?  Only careful analysis of the blubber, muscles
        and organs can answer those questions.
 
        RESEARCH OR COMMERCIAL WHALING
        The fact that whale parts excess to the needs of the research
        are sold in Japan seems to bother some Internet readers. In
        fact, Greenpeace and other anti-whaling activists have seized on
        this point in an attempt to downgrade or stop the research.
        However, the charge is baseless.  First, all IWC member coun-
        tries which take whales for research are required by the Inter-
        national Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (Article VIII,
        para 2) to sell the unused parts rather than waste them.  The
        Convention states: "Any whales taken under these special (re-
        search) permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the
        proceeds dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the
        Government by which the permit was granted."  Second, the pro-
        ceeds of the sale are used to help fund the research and do not
        profit any company.  And third, it is common practice in
        fisheries research to sell the unused catch; the U.S. and almost
        every other country does it.  Conversely, if the purpose of the
        research was really commercial whaling, the catch would certain-
        ly be much higher than 300 small minke whales per year.  Neither
        the IWC nor the Convention can place any limit on the number of
        whales caught for research.  300 is a very small amount indeed
        for a country which consumed almost 7,000 per year before the
        moratorium.
 
        One reader posted the following points as "plenty of evidence"
        that the research is really commercial whaling:
 
        >* the destination of the meat.
        >* the lack of research before the moratorium.
        >* the scale of the hunt.
        >* the appalling record of the whaling industry (including
           Australia's).
        >* the motivation of the 'research' itself: to find evidence
           that commercial whaling can start again.
 
        My response:
        1. The destination of the meat is Japan, naturally.  Where else
        would it be sold? IWC members are not allowed to sell whale pro-
        ducts to non-IWC countries.
        2. There was no lack of research before the moratorium.  There
        was a great deal of research and much of it was by Japanese
        scientists.  In fact, the Japanese provided much of the data
        that contributed to what we know today about the condition of
        whale stocks, their population dynamics, and their migration
        patterns.
        3. The scale of the "hunt" is very small, as pointed out above.
        4. The "appalling record" is an opinion which does not take into
        account the fact that the whaling industry instituted bans on
        the catches of right whales, blue whales, and humpbacks, brought
        scientists into IWC whaling management, cooperated with severe
        reductions in catch limits, and for the most part abided by
        scientific recommendations once the extent of overfishing was
        known.  At any rate, it has nothing to do with current research,
        controlled by the government and implemented by the Institute of
        Cetacean Research.
        5. As can be seen above, part of the motivation of the research
        is to develop data which may lead to the resumption of commer-
        cial whaling - - but only if it can be shown to be sustainable.
        There are many other aspects of the research, though.  At any
        rate, the motivation to resume commercial whaling does not make
        the research commercial whaling.
 
        The same reader also faulted the research by claiming that it
        did not produce many published papers.  The fact is that about
        120 scientific papers have resulted from the research and all
        were published by the IWC.
 
        WHALES AND EXTINCTION
        One Internet reader insisted that commercial whaling caused
        "dozens of extinct species."  The fact is that NO species of
        whale was hunted to extinction by commercial whaling.  Further-
        more, sightings from all over the world indicate that most whale
        populations, with the possible exception of the Antarctic blue
        whale, have been increasing in numbers for more than a decade.