Subject: Case Study: whaling, Part II

Michael Williamson (pita@whale.simmons.edu)
Thu, 13 Jun 1996 09:29:57 -0400 (EDT)

Who is Phil Clapham?
What is his view?
What is your view? On what do you base your view?

Subject: whaling

  I generally try to refrain from responding to Alan Macnow's postings
on this network (since I have considerably better things to do with
my day), but his latest press release is so full of falsehoods that
it should not pass unchallenged.

  Macnow says that:

  1) Various whale species were all protected many years ago, and
includes in this blue, right and gray whales.

  2) Virtually all whales except for Antarctic blues are recovering well.

  3) The reason blues aren't is - in the opinion of many scientists" -
competition from minke whales.

  First, while the dates of protection that he gives are essentially
correct, he ignores the fact that the Soviet Union is now known to have
illegally killed huge numbers of animals long after they were
protected.  Consider the fact that in the southern hemisphere alone,
the difference between what the Soviets reported to the IWC and what they
actually caught was on the order of a hundred thousand animals.  For
example the reported catch for humpback whales was approximately
2700, when in fact some 48,000 had actually been killed.  The Soviets
were also taking right and blue whales during this period despite the
bans on hunting that Mr Macnow trumpets so loudly.  It is clear that
the Soviets were killing essentially anything the crossed their bow,
and we know from last year's IWC that this included the N Hemisphere
as well, to an extent which is as yet unknown (see the paper by
Mikhaliev on Arabian Sea humpback whale catches).

  2) The second statement is, to put not too fine a point on it,
rubbish.  Perhaps Mr Macnow knows something that the rest of us don't
about northern right whales in the Atlantic (eastern population essentially
extinct, western in serious jeopardy in the opinion of anyone who is
working with them; situation in the N Pacific the same).  Or eastern
gray whales,
which may number 250 animals.  Or eastern Arctic bowheads (a few
hundred, with the Spitsbergen stock in the tens).

  To say that the N Atlantic right whale has come back from "30 animals"
to 500 is outrageous.  NO ONE knows what the population was in 1935,
and no one I know in the right whale field would say that there are
500 today.  More significantly, to deliberately mislead the public by
implying that right whales are doing fine is a travesty.  This species is
in desperate shape everywhere, and many people are working very hard
to attempt to develop a conservation effort - and we don't appreciate
self-serving lobbyists telling us that we shouldn't have any concern
for a critically endangered animal.

  I would also like Mr Macnow to tell us all on what he bases his statement
concerning blue whales.  There is zero evidence that N Atlantic
blue whales are increasing, and it is clear that the population is small.
California blue whales appear to be doing well; but we know very little
about this species anywhere else except that it appears to be nowhere
very numerous.  Does Macnow have some data that the scientific community
doesn't?

  As for the idea that minke whales are directly suppressing the recovery
of blue whales, the only "scientists" I know who believe this tedious
idea are those attached
to the whaling industry.  It is a gross oversimplification of basic
ecological theory (see review by Clapham & Brownell in this year's
IWC volume).

  I have no argument with the fact that many whale populations appear
to be recovering well.  But to play fast and loose with facts and
blithely ignore the endangered status of the several stocks that
are clearly not recovering, is extremely annoying to many people who
are working to repair the damage wrought by the whaling industry in
past years.

Phil Clapham
clapham@simnh.si.edu