Japan has operated a scientific whaling program in the Antarctic region for 24 years. The Japanese Antarctic research program (JARPA) commenced with approval from the International Whaling Commission in 1987 and was extended in 2004-05 as JARPA II. The primary objective of the program was to estimate the numbers of Antarctic minke whales. Over the first sixteen years, or stage one of the program, more than 6,700 minke whales were killed in the name of science.
On March 31, 2014 the International Court of Justice ruled that JARPA II was in violation of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. There was celebration around the world as anti-whaling activists were reduced to tears of joy on the courtroom steps, believing scientific whaling in the Antarctic was finished for good.
Since 1988, the organisation in charge of carrying out Japanese whaling, the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), produced only two peer-reviewed papers. The court ruled that neither of these two papers addressed JARPA II’s stated objectives.
A third paper studying close to 8,500 whales was published in February 2014 (Tamura and Konishi), after the international court had finished hearing the Australia vs. Japan scientific whaling case. It includes data on the stomach content of nearly 8,500 whales, including 1,828 whales from JARPA II. While this study was able to report information on krill numbers, ascertaining that the amount of krill in minke whale stomachs has declined by almost a third over a twenty-year period, it is unclear why such a large number of whales were killed for the study.
While this information is somewhat useful, lethal research methods were not needed to document the already well-known phenomenon of declining krill numbers. We can monitor how much krill whales are consuming through data monitoring tags, a technique already being utilised in Antarctica by marine mammal ecologists at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute in Newport. Ari Friedlaender, who led the minke whale data tagging study said of their results, “We learned more in 2 weeks of studying these animals in the Antarctic than the Japanese have ever produced – there are ways to study these animals and their feeding behaviour without taking them out of the picture.”
We can monitor whale numbers and ages through tracking them, taking acoustic and aerial surveys, and through migratory whale watching and documenting programs. Researchers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) use a number of non-lethal research methods to monitor whale health and behaviour, including DNA sampling collected from naturally shedding whale skin, blubber and fecal matter. IFAW scientists even collect data by detecting pathogens when whales exhale through their blowholes.
Earlier this week an official from the U.S State Department unofficially commented on Japan’s plans to re-commence whaling in the Antartic, telling Kyoto News International “We continue to view lethal scientific research as unnecessary in modern whale conservation and management. We encourage Japan to take this view into account when developing future research programs.”
Scientific whaling is clearly a masquerade to legitimise the commercial sale of whale meat. There has already been 24 years of scientific whaling “research”, and we have barely learnt a thing. We simply cannot trust that this latest research proposal, if enacted, will be any different.
As the former Australian Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garret, who was instrumental in the Australian government’s legal case against the Japanese whaling program stated, “You do not have to kill a whale in the Southern Ocean to gain a deeper understanding of it.”