Thursday, April 15, 2010

Catching Whales

The last of Japan's five Antarctic research whaling ships returned home this week. The whaling fleet had their lowest catch in years, which they blamed on harassment by the environmental group Sea Shepherd. The fleet's haul of 507 whales was down sharply from last year's of 680 and below the this year's target of 850.

The research results of this whaling expedition can be already found in the the Survey Results of the Fifth Voyage (2009/10) (Japanese Only), part of the "Second Phase of the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPAII)" conducted by the Institute of Cetacean Research for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). The press release of the report on the Ministry's website is HERE (Japanese Only).

The survey reports that their lethal scientific research had to be curtailed because of the Sea Shepherd. The whaling operation lost over a month from the environmentalist's interference. However, through their visual surveys, the Japanese whalers were able to determine that all the whale populations in the Antarctic are recovering.

Last month, whale researchers from the Australian-led Southern Ocean Research Partnership, returned from their first expedition to the Antarctic. Their purpose was to show that non-lethal methods of research were just as effective as Japan's program, which kills up to 1,000 of the mammals a year.

The scientists’ research focused on whale numbers, what they eat, how they move between food patches and how they travel to and from their breeding grounds in the central Pacific.

“All of those questions can be and are being answered using nonlethal techniques,” said expedition leader Nick Gales.

Peter Garrett, Australia’s environment minister, said in a statement that the research showed “effective and achievable ways to collect a whole range of important data without the need to kill these mammals.” The Minister was there at the March launch of the Antarctic expedition.

In February, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said "It's time that Australia got serious when it comes to the slaughter of whales, particularly the slaughter of whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary. What we will do in Government is to take Japan and other countries as necessary to court in the International Court of Justice to bring a stop to this practice of whale slaughter."

Also this week, scientists say they have found clear proof that meat from whales captured under Japan's whaling programme is being sold in US and Korean eateries. The researchers say they used genetic fingerprinting to identify meat taken from a Los Angeles restaurant as coming from a sei whale sold in Japan.

Writing in the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters, the researchers involved say that trading in this meat is banned between countries that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

In Washington, this week, members of the International Whaling Commission are attempting to negotiate an agreement to limit and eventually end whaling. The proposal would include stricter monitoring of whaling operations, such as placing of tracking devices and international monitors on all whaling ships and participation in a whale DNA registry to track global trade in whale products. This agreement is to be presented at the annual meeting in Morocco, June 21-25.

Later: "U.S. Leads New Bid to Phase Out Whale Hunting" The New York Times, April 15, 2010. Excellent review of current negotiations to curtain whaling complete with sources and a multimedia presentation,

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