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Whale Research Vessels Return To Port

April 6, 2001

(TOKYO) – Japan’s whale research vessels are scheduled to return to the ports in Japan next week having completed the 14th year of the research program in the Antarctic. “We are pleased to welcome home the fleet. The research is producing valuable information for the management of Antarctic marine resources,” the Director General of The Institute of Cetacean Research, Dr. Seiji Ohsumi, said.

“The number of minke whale schools sighted during this year’s Japan Antarctic Research Program (JARPA) was the highest recorded so far.” “While Antarctic minkes are usually distributed in high concentrations in the area close to the ice edge, this year’s research observations showed a high concentration in the northern part of the research area as well.” Dr. Ohsumi said that these results and the results of biological analysis of samples would help the IWC’s Scientific Committee provide an up-to-date assessment of the Antarctic minke whale population.

“Japan’s whale research program together with the IWC’s Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research (SOWER) program provide the only long-term whale research programs in the Antarctic. These programs complement each other and are required to monitor changes in the Antarctic ecosystem and to provide a scientific basis for the management of Antarctic resources,” Dr. Ohsumi said.

The Government of Japan provides the research vessels, researchers and crew for the IWC’s SOWER program, the latest results of which will be released at this year’s annual IWC meeting.

Dr. Ohsumi noted that in 1990, the IWC estimated the Antarctic minke whale population at 761,000 and in 1992, based on its Revised Management Procedure, calculated that 2,000 could be taken from the population each year for one hundred years without any risk to the population. “Clearly, our research take of 440 animals is small and poses no risk to the population.”

Japan’s whale research program involves both non-lethal research such as sighting surveys and biopsy sampling as well as research that requires the take of minke whales. The International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee has commended both the quality and quantity of data from this program and noted that the program has “provided considerable data which could be directly relevant for management”.

“While opponents of sustainable whaling characterize our research program as ‘commercial whaling in disguise’ the IWC Scientific Committee says that using only non-lethal means to obtain this information are unlikely to be successful in the Antarctic,” Dr. Ohsumi said.

Dr. Ohsumi reiterated also that the Convention requires the by-products of the research be processed. “The fact that the whale meat is sold is actually a requirement of the whaling treaty to ensure that resources are not wasted. Income from the sale of by-products (meat) is used to help offset the cost of the research.”

“Criticism of Japan’s whale research program based on emotional reasons ignores both science and international law and is a rejection of the basic principle that resources should be managed on a scientific basis,” he said. “Sustainable use and proper management of all marine resources should be based on scientific findings. Indeed, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling requires that its regulations be based on scientific findings.”

Dr. Ohsumi said Japan’s whale research program is legal under the terms of the Convention, which provides that IWC member countries can issue permits for the killing of whales for research purposes. “The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the IWC moratorium apply only to commercial whaling, and not to research.”

Japan’s research program in the Antarctic, which began with feasibility studies in 1987/88 and 1988/89 in response to claims of uncertainty of scientific information, has four objectives:
1. Estimation of biological parameters to improve the stock management of the Southern Hemisphere minke whale,
2. Examination of the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem,
3. Examination of the effect of environmental changes on cetaceans, and
4. Examination of the stock structure of the Southern Hemisphere minke whales to improve stock management.

The research fleet consists of the main research base, the Nisshin maru, together with three sighting and sampling vessels and one dedicated sighting vessel.

This year’s research which was conducted in the Antarctic waters between 130o E and 145o W longitude, involved a total sighting distance of 19,878 miles, non-lethal collection of biopsy samples from blue, fin and humpback whales and the taking of 440 minke whales. More than 100 data records and samples are taken from each minke whale and these are used to estimate age and reproductive rates and natural mortality of the population. Other data are collected on morphology, migration, growth, physiology, ecology, feeding and oceanography.

For further information please see attachments: (Backgrounder and Qs & As)
The Institute of Cetacean Research
Tel: +81-3-3536-6521 Fax: +81-3-3536-6522
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