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Criticism Of Research Program Is Anti-Science

28 February 2002

The Director General of the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, Dr. Seiji Ohsumi, today responded to criticism of its new research plan.

“Japan’s plan to increase its whale research program is based on urgent scientific need to collect data on the competition between whales and fisheries,” said Dr. Ohsumi. “It is estimated that whales consume 3 to 5 times the amount of marine resources as are caught for human consumption, so our whale research is providing valuable information required for improving the management of all our marine resources.”

“Research on the role of whales in the ecosystem and in particular the consumption of fish by whales is supported many international fisheries organizations including the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Even the IWC adopted a resolution last year making the study of interactions between whales and fisheries a priority.”

“Japan is simply doing what the IWC said was a priority,” Dr. Ohsumi said.

Over the past two years, a total of 140 minke whales, 93 Bryde’s whales and 13 sperm whales were sampled. The proposed program involves sampling of 150 minke whales, 50 Bryde’s whales, 50 sei and 10 sperm whales each year.

“These species were chosen because they are abundant in the north Pacific and they are very large animals – this means they consume huge amounts of marine resources,” he said.

“From a scientific point of view, we need to include Sei whales since they have the second highest biomass in the region following sperm whales. The planned increase in the number of minke whales to be sampled is required so that inshore areas where the competition between whales and fisheries is likely to be greatest can be sampled.”

Calculations show that the effect of the research catches on the abundance of whales will be negligible. Even with these catches, the stocks will continue to increase,” he added.

“Based on the success of the past research and increasingly strong support from international fisheries organizations, including FAO, for research to improve multi-species approaches to management, Japan is convinced that its research effort should be increased.”

He explained: “The priority for the research is to determine what whales are eating, where and how much. This information along with oceanographic and fisheries data are required as input for ecosystem models that will improve fisheries management.”

Japan has conducted a whale research program in the western North Pacific since 1994 under Special Permit as provided for under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW).

Japan has submitted the research plan to the IWC Scientific Committee to continue its whale research in the North Pacific.

The proposal, which under IWC rules is supposed to remain confidential until after it has been reviewed by the Scientific Committee, has been leaked. Dr. Ohsumi said “this is just another flagrant violation of IWC rules by someone opposed to whaling and a demonstration of the continuing dysfunctional nature of the IWC. This research program that should be judged on its scientific merits rather than emotional rhetoric. The Scientific Committee has commented that our research is providing valuable scientific information.”

Dr. Ohsumi explained that the program includes both lethal and non-lethal research. He emphasized that the study of the diet of whales cannot be done using only non-lethal means. He also noted that comments from the Scientific Committee’s review of the proposed program would be considered following this year’s meeting of the IWC and before initiation of the program.

“It is important to understand that the proposed research is perfectly legal under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and that it has a sound scientific basis.”

ENDS

Research Plan for Cetacean Studies in the Western North Pacific Background Document

The Government of Japan has submitted a research plan for cetacean studies in the western North Pacific to the IWC’s Scientific Committee. Under IWC rules, such proposals are to be kept strictly confidential until after the Scientific Committee has reviewed them and they are provided to the Plenary session of the IWC.

It is unfortunate that someone has again ignored IWC rules and published news of Japan’s proposal. This is just another example of the continuing dysfunctional nature of the IWC.

Japan has conducted a whale research program in the western North Pacific from 1994 to1999 under Special Permit as provided for under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). This program was called JARPN.

JARPN had two main objectives: the study of population structure of minke whales and the study of feeding ecology of minke whales in the western North Pacific. The program was reviewed by the IWC’s Scientific Committee each year and at a review meeting held in February 2000.

Since some scientific issues remained outstanding following the 1994 – 1999 research, Japan continued a second phase of the research called JARPN II feasibility study in the years 2000 and 2001. The priority for the JARPN II feasibility study was feeding ecology involving studies on prey consumption by cetaceans, prey preferences of cetaceans and ecosystem modeling. Minke, Bryde’s and sperm whales were included as part of this research. Other research objectives include the study of stock structure of minke, Bryde’s and sperm whales as well as the study of environmental effects such as chemical pollution on cetaceans and the marine ecosystem. A total of 140 minke whales, 93 Bryde’s whales and 13 sperm whales were sampled in the two years. Minke, Bryde’s and sperm whales were selected for this research since they are likely major components of the large whale biomass in the region and because their populations are abundant.

Based on the success of the two-year feasibility study and increasingly strong support from international fisheries organizations, including FAO, for research to improve multi-species approaches to management, Japan is convinced that it should start JARPN II as a full-scale research program from 2002. It is the research plan for this program, which has been submitted to the IWC Scientific Committee for its review that has now been leaked.

Many international fisheries organizations have urged the development of multi-species management systems. This means that predator – prey relationships among the major components of an ecosystem must be understood. Prey consumption by cetaceans is therefore the main part of the proposed research. Prey consumption and prey preference data will be used as input for ecosystem models. The second priority is to monitor environmental pollutants. Further data related to stock structure, particularly for minke whales, will also be collected. The program involves both lethal and non-lethal research. Studies of prey consumption by whales cannot be done using only non-lethal means.

Like the JARPN II feasibility study, 100 minke whales, 50 Bryde’s whales and 10 sperm whales will be sampled each year in the full-scale program. In addition, 50 sei whales will be sampled each year. Further, an additional 50 minke whales will be sampled each year by small-type whaling catcher boats to cover the temporal and spatial gaps that cannot be sampled by the larger whaling research vessels. These species were chosen because they are abundant in the north Pacific. They have a large biomass which means that they consume huge amounts of marine resources. Information on what they eat, where and how much along with oceanographic and fisheries data are required as input for ecosystem models. The effects of the research catches will be negligible.

It is important to understand that the proposed research is perfectly legal under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and that it has a sound scientific basis.

Comments from the Scientific Committee’s review of the proposed program will be considered following this year’s meeting of the IWC and before initiation of the program.

ENDS


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