by Captain Siddharth Chakravarty
Captain of The Steve Irwin
Conservative estimates put the number of whales killed between 1904 and 1987 in the Antarctic by commercial whaling fleets at 1,339,232. That’s an average of 16,000 whales per year – year after year – for 83 years.
The marauding ships wiped out one whale species after another in a descending order of size until their operations were halted by the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986/87. By this time the whaling industry had decimated the baleen whale populations of the Southern Ocean.
Japan was opposed to the moratorium initially, but soon after introduced a “scientific” whaling program in the Antarctic. Japan’s assertion is that their whaling in the Southern Ocean is real “science.” Sea Shepherd’s assertion is that their “science” is bogus and below are listed reasons why we’re certain their whaling operations are commercial.
In its scientific whaling plans, the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), Japan proposes some ridiculous ideas and here are just some of them:
- ICR: Initially, there were as many as 200,000 Blue Whales in the Antarctic, but their number was greatly reduced by over-hunting, and their take was banned in 1964. After forty years, however, they still number less than 2,000 and are far from reasonably recovered (Branch et al., 2004). In Area IV of the Antarctic Ocean, there have been as many sightings of the Humpback as of the Antarctic Minke Whales (Ishikawa et al., 2004). We should consider a management scheme that will provide for the recovery of blue whales.
Sid Chakravarty: The ICR admits that over-hunting reduced the number of Blue Whales. The term “management” actually means the killing of Minke and Humpback Whales, under the delusion that taking more whales out from the Antarctic eco-system will allow for the resurgence of the Blue Whale.
- ICR: More than forty years have gone by since the severe decline in the size of Blue Whale population, but this species remains at a low level of abundance even though some increase has recently been confirmed. There is a possibility that their niche has already been mostly taken over by Antarctic Minke and other whale species who have been showing an increasing trend of abundance in recent years. To deal with this situation, which has anthropogenic roots, all management options should be considered.
Sid Chakravarty: The ICR implies that the taking of smaller whale species is imperative to allow the population of the bigger Blue Whales to recover. Here is the simple math that shows that this approach does not make any sense:
Commercial whaling operations took approximately 331,664 Blue Whales in a period of 52 years. This means that if the ICR’s claim of Minke Whale abundance is true, the bio-mass of the Blue Whales should have allowed the Minke Whale population to currently stand at close to two million. The number of Minke Whales in the Southern Ocean is in fact a fraction of this number, meaning that there is enough opportunity for the Blue Whales to resurge without killing Minke Whales.
- ICR: Looking to the future, the IWC will need to consider a multi-species management approach in the Antarctic Ocean, which has the world's largest whale resources, for the conservation and sustainable use of these resources. Multi-species management also should allow for the recovery of depleted whale species.
Sid Chakravarty: Based on the erroneous premise that the removal of Minke Whales will allow for the resurgence of other bigger whales, the ICR further suggests that once the numbers begin to show an uptrend, the taking of larger whales should be allowed. What is noteworthy is that conservation and sustainable use are mentioned in the same sentence. “Sustainable use,” which is actually killing, is not an option for an already depleted whale stock.
- ICR: Although the IWC Scientific Committee completed the Revised Management Procedure for the regulation of commercial whaling in 1992 (IWC, 1993), with the exception of operations carried out by Norway, that has lodged an objection, whaling based on the RMP has not been resumed to this day. The RMP is overly concerned with the protection of whale stocks and thus too conservative in terms of rational utilization of resources.
Sid Chakravarty: The ICR is worried that the International Whaling Committee’s Scientific Committee, which again by its own admission, is the highest scientific body in the world for Cetaceans, is being too conservative. If the IWC’s approach is to protect the whales and if the ICR is critical of this view, then by default it is not the interest of the ICR to be concerned about the conservation of whales within a whale sanctuary.
- ICR: Significant global environmental changes that have the potential to affect whale populations are occurring. There is also a need to monitor how cetaceans adapt to global warming and the shifts in the ecosystem structure caused by human activities so as to provide scientific basis for the comprehensive management of whale stocks, employing control of whale populations if needs be.
Sid Chakravarty: It is being widely discussed that the rise in seawater temperature is causing a decline in the amount of krill in the Antarctic. This is turn is actually detrimental to the growth of whale stocks since krill is the primary food source of all baleen whales. With whale stocks shrinking due to the loss of the primary food source, the ICR’s suggestion to control whale populations by harpooning is ridiculous.
- ICR: Also, it seems plausible that the take of one whale species may have positive effect on the recovery of another. For instance, it may be possible and desirable, through selective harvesting, to accelerate the recovery of Blue and Fin Whales toward the early days when the Blue and Fin whales were the dominant species.
Sid Chakravarty: The ICR employs the use of the word “plausible” which means reasonable. “Selective harvesting” implies killing. It is not reasonable to think that killing even more whales will replace the void of a million Blue and Fin Whales that were taken during the years of commercial whaling.
- ICR: Establishing future management objectives: Possible management objectives or goals would include: maintaining the present condition, in other words, preserving the existing relative abundances among the whale species; promoting relative abundances that favour whale species with high economic value; or accelerating the recovering of Blue and Fin whales.
Sid Chakravarty: The ICR makes its intentions quite clear - while Minke Whales are abundant they will exploit them commercially. If the decline in Minke Whales allows for the resurgence of Blue and Fin Whales, then they should be targeted as well, since the bigger whales are the whales with the higher economic value. More meat simply means more profit.
- ICR: On the taking of Fin Whales in the first 2 years of the study: Catches of Humpback and Fin whales were banned in the Antarctic in 1963 and 1976, respectively. Crews and research staff of the research fleet have no experience in catching and flensing these two large-sized whales. Thus, it is necessary to examine the practicability of methods of hunting, hauling, flensing and biological sampling.
Sid Chakravarty: The “scientists” were out of practice and knowledge on killing and handling two of the world’s largest animals. The ICR considers it okay to kill endangered whales to train its butchers.
There are a lot of different excuses given and double standards employed by the ICR to disguise their commercial whaling operations. To begin with, their science is hollow and is in fact solely aimed at cheating the system. The time interval since commercial whaling operations ceased to when the above plan was put forward is too short to allow for an assessment of whale stocks and competition. And, if for a brief moment we assumed that the ICR’s science was legitimate, then we should examine what the point of this current science is. It is not to revive the depleted whale stocks. It is definitely not to return the Antarctic whales to their pre-whaling abundance levels. And it most certainly is not aimed at the conservation of whales. It is aimed at one thing and one thing alone - the commercial, profit-making, ugly business of whale meat.
The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was born out of an idea of conservation. It was to allow the whales to prosper. It was based on the remorse of the lost lives of over 1.3 million whales. It was established after the international community acknowledged that the whales needed a safe haven.
Japan did not take the 1.3 million whales alone, but it did play a part. It needs to take responsibility and ownership for the terrible slaughter. It needs to respect the ideology behind the sanctuary. It needs to end its commercial whaling operations. The only thing Japan can do to allow for the resurgence of the whales is to leave the sanctuary. Here the wonder of wild nature will play out and the balance in the eco-system will be restored. Bogus science is not the way ahead.
Whether the operation is labelled as “science” or “research” and the slaughter as “harvesting,” “management,” “selective use” or “utilisation of resources,” for the whales it simply means “death.” Death has no place inside a sanctuary and if Japan’s whaling fleet cannot make that simple connection, then as individuals we bear the moral and ethical obligation to stop them until they do.
For the Japanese whalers, I quote Bob Brown, campaign leader of Operation Relentless, “Stoking your boilers is the perverse idea, which some people never grow out of, that you are closer to supremacy over nature if you kill other creatures bigger, faster or more mysterious than yourselves, no matter how unthreatening, amiable or technologically innocent those creatures may be.”