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World’s largest whale still under threat

World’s largest whale still under threat

IWC science reveals only 75 Antarctic Blue whales sighted in past 20 years

Smaller whales also at risk

Shimonoseki, Japan/Auckland, Monday 20 MAY, 2002: In spite of nearly four decades of protection Antarctic blue whales show little sign of recovery, according to the latest science from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

As the largest of the great whales, blue whales were the most profitable species for Antarctic whalers to catch and consequently their population of about 250,000 was reduced to around 1,000 within 60 years. Despite intensive surveys of the Antarctic only 75 blue whales have been sighted in the past 20 years, according to the IWC Scientific Committee report released today.

“Whales don’t recover quickly from over-exploitation and it’s particularly worrying that the blue whale is failing to recover because they’ve been protected for so long,” says Sarah Duthie Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner.

The report says estimates of Southern Hemisphere minke populations in all Antarctic areas surveyed are less than half previously estimated. Most of the Antarctic has now been surveyed for the third time, although the whole survey will not be completed until 2004. On average, the minke population in all the areas surveyed was 46% of the estimate from the previous survey.

“IWC scientists haven’t agreed on an explanation for this drastic reduction. One possibility is climate change, which is known to be having an increasing impact on the Antarctic ecosystem,” says Duthie.

Although this decline was found in the areas in which the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) conducts its “scientific research” whaling it was never reported by the “scientific” whalers. In fact after their Southern Ocean expedition this year they reported seeing large numbers of minkes.

The report also contains new surveys submitted to the IWC by Norway showing there are not as many North Atlantic minkes as previously thought and an increased level of uncertainty about the population estimate. This should decrease the number of whales Norway takes in the future. But when it was revealed their catch was predominantly female in 2000, Norway simply changed the way it calculated its catch limits (by lowering the tuning level for the Revised Management Procedure agreed to by the IWC) in order to keep catching the same number of whales.

“Given this history, Norway will just bend the rules again to catch as many whales as it can,” says Duthie. “The number of whales caught by Norway is driven by the whaling industry, not by sound science and the need to protect whales.”

The report also reveals:

After the release of the Kondo/Kasuya report, which documented systematic and organised falsification of catch statistics by Japanese coastal whalers, the IWC Scientific Committee has set up a working group to investigate the nature and quality of past data. Japan has refused to provide scientists for this group and says the previous official catch statistics are correct.

Total reported bycatch (whales caught in fishing nets) for 2001 in Japan was three times the average figure for the previous five years. This follows the introduction of new regulations in Japan which allow fishermen to sell whales caught in fishing nets.

“All the scientific evidence from the IWC points to the need to adopt a truly precautionary approach and to stop Japanese “scientific” whaling and Norwegian commercial whaling,” says Duthie..

For further information: In Shimonoseki: Sarah Duthie, Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans Campaigner +81 90 9363 9935 In New Zealand: Pia Mancia, Greenpeace New Zealand Whales Campaigner, 021 927 301, or Brendan Lynch, Communications Officer, 021 790 817

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