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Whales at risk again from Japanese hunting

Media Release

26 May 2005

Whales at risk again from Japanese hunting, say international researchers

Proposed Japanese “scientific” whaling will threaten the recovery of whales in the South Pacific, say leading international researchers.

Japan plans to ask the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Korea in June to double its kill of about 440 minke whales a year for “scientific purposes” and add humpback and fin whales to the list. The proposed hunt is expected to take place in Antarctic waters south of Australia, New Zealand and other South Pacific island nations.

Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Science, Dr Scott Baker, who will be attending the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee meeting and speaking at a workshop focusing on protection of Korea’s coastal whales, says Japan will have a fight on its hands.

“Humpback whales throughout much of the South Pacific have shown little sign of recovery to their former abundance, despite claims to the contrary by some Japanese scientists. Conservation Minister Chris Carter has already indicated that New Zealand will fight the proposal on several counts and other governments are also expected to challenge the proposal.”

Dr Baker has been working with other scientists from the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium to establish sanctuaries for whales for more than a decade.

“Nearly 200,000 humpback whales and more than 700,000 fin whales were killed in the Southern Hemisphere during the 20th century reducing both populations to near extinction. Now, it seems Japan plans to resume hunting of both species in defiance of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” says Dr Baker.

Dr Phil Clapham from the U.S. National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle says Japan's "scientific" whaling program has been widely criticised as a cover for a growing commercial hunt.

"The quality of the scientific research is extremely poor despite 16 years of operation and thousands of whales killed. Japan’s research exists for one purpose only - to ‘prove’ - no matter what the data actually say, that whales eat too much fish and are thus in competition with Japanese fisheries. This isn’t the case, and is not even relevant in the Antarctic, where whales eat krill," says Dr Clapham.

Scientists from the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium have been involved in studies of living humpback whales on their winter breeding grounds in French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

They have collected individual identification photographs and genetic samples from more than 1,200 whales throughout this region, tracking the annual return of most whales to their birth wintering grounds and, for the first time, the migration of some whales between the island chains.

Working with local governments, the Consortium has helped to establish sanctuaries for whales in the territorial waters of many of these island nations.

“Japan's irresponsible plans to hunt these same whales during their migration to feeding grounds in waters around the Antarctic could undermine local recovery. Whales from Tonga, for example, migrate past New Zealand and Australia to feeding grounds in the Antarctic where they will be at risk from the proposed Japanese 'scientific' hunt," says Dr Baker.


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