Whaling for Science ?

Author:  Brittany Raffa

Date:  January 2008

Japanese whaling will resume with double the number of whales killed for self-proclaimed scientific research, reports Reuters in a December 19 press report. The Australian Centre for Applied Marine Mammal Science has responded with a campaign to count the number of Antarctic minke whales by flying over 58,000 square miles of pack ice off eastern Antarctica. The Australian researchers say the count will be the first accurate one since the 1980s.

The Japanese plan to hunt 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales. They had previously planned to hunt 50 humpback whales for the first time in 50 years, but due to worldwide criticism have decided not to halt the endeavor. The Japanese ships departed last month to the Southern Pacific off Antarctica.

Humpbacks were almost extinct until the International Whaling Commission of 1966 forbade them to be hunted. However, there is a loophole in which whales can be hunted for scientific research. In the last 20 years Japan has killed more than 7,000 whales in the name of scientific research. This year Japan will kill twice the number of whales as last year. Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has written to Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's former Prime Minister, that new research methods for studying whales make it unnecessary to kill them. Takanori Nagatomo, deputy director at the Far Seas Fisheries Division in Japan, replied, "We have been engaging in research whaling to collect scientific data so we can resume commercial whaling." Japan will most likely submit plans to gain permission to increase whaling at the annual International Whaling Commission meeting next month in South Korea.

Australia has organized a team of 10 expert surveyors who will use photography, video footage, infra-red imagery and mathematical modeling to back up their estimate of the minke population. Kevin Rudd, Australia's new prime minister since December 3 of last year and a strong opponent of whaling, will decide this week whether to send a naval ship and a long-range aircraft to the area where Japan is whaling to assemble evidence for a case against Hague in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. However, Australian international law specialist Don Rothwell warns that such naval patrols would violate the 1959 Antarctic Treaty that made Antarctica a demilitarized zone and could add air to an already full balloon, eventually popping into an international incident.

Whaling has long been a part of Japan's culture as whale meat is eaten as a delicacy. Japan maintains that they kill whales to collect data on whales' ages, eating habits and other facts that could support their argument that some types of whales, such as minkes, are devouring fish stock.

Critics retort that Japan is merely using scientific research as the pretext for selling and eating whale meat in restaurants and schools.

Written by Brittany Raffa

Reviewed by Emma Wear

Published by Pooja Ghatalia.