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IWC Scientific Committee At Odds With NZ And US

15 November 2001

IWC Scientific Committee At Odds With NZ And US

The Director General of the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, Dr. Seiji Ohsumi, today criticised New Zealand’s Minister of Conservation, Sandra Lee, and the United States Government for their press statements urging Japan to cease its whale research programme in the Antarctic.

“Japan’s whale research makes a major contribution to understanding the biology of whales and provides considerable data that can be directly relevant for their management. This is the view of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee. The statements from the US and New Zealand are political statements, and bear no resemblance to the Scientific Committee’s true view of our research. The Scientific Committee is of the view that our programme is producing valuable scientific information,” Dr. Ohsumi said.

He also noted the Scientific Committee’s view was that it was unlikely that non-lethal means of obtaining this information could be successfully applied in the Antarctic, as has been wrongly suggested by the US and New Zealand.

Japan’s programme began in 1987 in response to claims by some members of the IWC that scientific knowledge was insufficient to properly manage whale stocks. “Both the US and New Zealand were among those who said scientific information was insufficient – now they’re saying we should stop gathering scientific information. Clearly, this position is inconsistent with the requirement that the IWC’s regulations be based on scientific findings,” he said.

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling specifically provides that member countries of the IWC may issue permits for killing whales for research purposes.

Dr. Ohsumi noted that this provision makes Japan’s research programme legal and that both the US and New Zealand, along with a number of other IWC member countries, have used this provision of the Convention to conduct whale research of their own in the past.

For more information, contact:
Joji Morishita, Deputy Director General,
Far Seas Fisheries Division
Fisheries Agency, Government of Japan
Ph 0081-3-3502-2443


Japan has two whale research programmes, one in the Antarctic that began in 1987 in response to claims by a number of members of the IWC that the scientific information was insufficient to properly manage whale stocks. This and the IWC’s Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research (SOWER) are the only long-term research programmes on whales in the Antarctic that is providing valuable information related to whales and the Antarctic ecosystem.

The other research programme is carried out in the western North Pacific. This was originally a five-year programme that began in 1994. Phase II of this programme began in August 2000.

Both the research programmes involve non-lethal research including sighting surveys and biopsy sampling, as well as a small take of whales for research that cannot be effectively done by non-lethal means. This includes examination of earplugs for age determination studies, reproductive organs for examination of maturation, reproductive cycles and reproductive rates, stomachs for analysis of food consumption and blubber thickness as a measure of condition.

Are Japan’s research programmes a violation of the moratorium and the sanctuary in the Antarctic? Are Japan’s whale research programmes illegal?

Japan’s whale research programmes are legal. Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) specifically provides for members of the IWC to issue permits for the killing of whales for research purposes. Both the moratorium and the Antarctic Sanctuary apply only to commercial whaling.

Why does Japan continue its whale research programmes?

Sustainable use and proper management of all marine resources should be based on scientific findings. Article V of the ICRW requires that it’s regulations be “based on scientific findings”. Criticism of Japan’s whale research programmes, 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.

Anti-whaling is not the majority world-view. In fact, in 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, reaffirmed the provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, an agreement that permits whaling on the high seas, and explicitly rejected the efforts of anti-whaling nations to exclude whales from the list of resources open to sustainable use and development. Further, at both the 1997 and 2000 Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, more than half the countries present supported the controlled use of minke whales. Many fishing nations including Norway, China, Korea, Russia and Iceland, as well as many developing countries, support the sustainable use of all marine resources (including whales) and research programmes that provide for science based resource management decisions.

Aren’t Japan’s whale research programmes simply commercial whaling in disguise?

The ICRW requires that the by-products of the research be processed. The fact that the whale meat ends up on the market is a requirement of the Treaty. Income from the sale of by-products (meat) is used to help offset the cost of the research.

Why do you need to kill whales to do research?

Japan’s research programmes involve both lethal and non-lethal research techniques such as sighting surveys and biopsy sampling. While certain information can be obtained through non-lethal means, other information requires sampling of internal organs such as ovaries, earplugs and stomachs. For example, while the population age structure and reproductive rates of land mammals can be determined by observation over a long period of time, such is not the case for whales. In this case we need earplugs for age determination and ovaries to establish reproductive rates. Similarly, to study the interactions of whales and other parts of the marine ecosystem we need to know what they are eating. This is achieved by examining stomach contents. Another example is that for pollution studies, tissue samples from various internal organs are required.

Will research catches further deplete endangered species?

Most species of whale are not endangered and, in fact, many species are abundant. This is particularly true for minke whales in the Antarctic and minke, Bryde’s and sperm whales in the western North Pacific. The small take for research purposes has no negative impact on these stocks. For example, in the Antarctic, the research take is only 440 from a stock calculated by the IWC’s Scientific Committee in 1990 to be 760,000 animals. For that population estimate, the Scientific Committee calculated that a take of 2,000 animals each year for the next 100 years would pose no threat. In the north Pacific, a maximum of only 10 sperm whales in each of two years will be taken from a population estimated by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to be over two million.

Why do you need to kill so many whales for research?

The number of samples is small relative to the size of the populations being sampled. The sample size of minke whales taken each year is the smallest number required to obtain statistically valid results. If we only sample only a few animals from a large population, the results have no meaning since they would not representative of the whole population. The sample size for the Bryde’s and sperm whales to be taken in the North Pacific is smaller than is required for statistically significant results since the programme for 2000 and 2001 is a feasibility study.

Why does Japan conduct whale research in the Southern Ocean when it is an international whale sanctuary?

The Southern Ocean Sanctuary applies only to commercial whaling. It does not apply to research.

What does the IWC Scientific Committee say about Japan’s research programmes?

Japan submits the results from its research to the IWC Scientific Committee for review every year. The Scientific Committee has commended both the quality and quantity of data from Japan’s research programmes. The IWC’s Scientific Committee has noted that the programmes have provided considerable data which could be directly relevant for management and that the results of these programmes have the potential to improve the management of minke whales. The Scientific Committee has also noted that non-lethal means to obtain some of this information are unlikely to be successful particularly in the Antarctic.

See for example: IWC document 49/4 Report of the Scientific Committee, 1997, which is the source of the following quotes:

“The information produced by JARPA (Japan’s Antarctic Research Programme) has set the stage for answering many questions about long term population changes regarding minke whales in Antarctic Areas IV and V.”

“…JARPA has already made a major contribution to understanding of certain biological parameters.”

“The Committee noted that JARPA is at the half-way point and has provided substantial improvement in the understanding of stock structure.”

“… the meeting noted that there were non-lethal methods available … but that logistics and the abundance of minke whales in the relevant Area probably precluded their successful application.”

See also, IWC document: Report of the Workshop to Review the Japanese Whale Research Programme under Special Permit for North Pacific Minke Whales (JARPN), Tokyo, 7-10 February 2000 from which the following quotes are taken:

What has been learned from Japan’s research programmes?

Much has been learned about the feeding habits of whales through analysis of stomach contents. The research has found for example that whales are consuming 3 to 5 times the amount of marine living resources as are caught for human consumption. Sampling from our research programme reveals that minke whales are eating at least 10 species of fish including Japanese anchovy, Pacific saury, walleye Pollock and other commercially important species. Other valuable information related to genetic make-up, reproduction and geographical distribution has also resulted from these research programmes. Our research has also showed that contaminant levels in Antarctic minke whales are very low.

Has the population of minke whales in the Antarctic declined?

The Scientific Committee, at its meeting last year suggested that the population of minke whales in the Antarctic might be lower than the previously agreed estimate of 760,000. However, at this year’s meeting a number of factors, related to the way the population estimates were calculated, were identified as possibly contributing to the appearance of a decline and no conclusion on the matter was reached. Even if the population has declined by 50%, Japan’s small research catch would have no impact.


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