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Japan’s science: a whale of a tale – WWF

15 June 2005

Japan’s science: a whale of a tale – WWF

A new WWF report dispels the myth that it is necessary to kill whales in order to study them.

Since the moratorium on whaling took effect in 1986, more than 7,000 whales – minke, sperm and Bryde's whales – have been killed in the name of the science, mainly by the Japanese whaling fleet. WWF, the global conservation organisation says that modern, non-lethal, techniques provide more reliable data on whale biology.

“The evidence is clear – so-called scientific whaling is a sham,” says Chris Howe, WWF-New Zealand’s Conservation Director, and one of the four people on the WWF core team attending the International Whaling Commission annual meeting being held in South Korea from 20 to 24 June.

According to the report – Science, profit and politics: Scientific Whaling in the 21st Century – existing non-lethal techniques provide greater sample sizes, more reliable data, and can be repeated over many years – something which is not possible when a whale is killed.

For example, genetic analysis of small skin samples – collected with a non-harmful special biopsy dart – is now widely used to understand the population structure of many mammals, including whales.

Japan also claims it must kill whales to determine what they eat by studying stomach contents. WWF points out that this provides only a snapshot view of the most recently consumed prey. In contrast, analysis from skin samples provides solid information on the whale's diet over a longer time period.

Similarly, Japanese whalers allege lethal research is needed to determine the sex and reproductive condition of whales. But WWF experts reply that sex is easily determined with a biopsy sample. A recently developed technique also enables scientists to determine pregnancy from biopsy samples.

According to the report, the biggest myth put forward by Japan’s “scientific” whaling is that whales are responsible for the collapse of fish stocks. However, not one of Japan’s studies on this has been accepted for publication in any international scientific journal. The science is so poor, the WWF report points out, that it would not pass peer review by scientists associated with any reputable journal.

“At this year’s International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, Japan is trying to push more countries to vote pro-whaling. They are also trying to establish a secret ballot procedure so no-one will know how any government votes.

“The WWF stance on this is clear – governments must ensure voting is open so that we have transparency and accountability. Whales are a highly migratory species and they are everyone’s responsibility. Their populations have been devastated by whaling over the last 200 years, and we must all work together to ensure they recover,” says Mr Howe.

ENDS

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