Whaling or sanctuary?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2000:

ADELAIDE, Australia– – Japan
was to introduce a plan to expand its “scientific
whaling” program to kill 10 sperm whales
and 50 Bryde’s whales next year as well as
more than 500 minkes at the 52nd annual
meeting of the International Whaling
Commission, to be held July 3-6 in Adelaide.
The Japanese fleet killed 439 whales
out of a self-allocated quota of 440 this year.
Against intense Japanese opposition,
including direct mailings to Adelaide residents,
Australia and New Zealand were to
seek designation of a South Pacific Whale
The new sanctuary would extend the
protection zone for southern hemisphere
baleen whales to encompass their breeding
areas, as well as the feeding locations already
protected within the existing Southern Ocean
and Indian Ocean sanctuaries.

Thirty of the 40 IWC nations would
have to ratify the proposal, which faces an
uphill struggle despite the backing of the U.S.,
Britain, Austria, Monaco, and Italy.
Ray Gambell, IWC secretary since
1976, announced he would retire after the
meeting––and told BBC News that the IWC
should reopen commercial whaling, closed
since 1988, because whaling is already going
on at a commercial level through loopholes.
Norway, the other major whaling
nation besides Japan, has authorized coastal
whalers to kill 655 minkes this year. The
quota is 100 lower than in 1999, after the
Norwegian fleet fell 400 minkes short of
killing the 1999 quota. The whale meat is
marketable, but with hundreds of tons of
unsold blubber in storage, used only to produce
heating oil, the Norwegian Fish Sales
Association has cut the price it pays for blubber
to under a cent a pound. Whalers, in turn,
have threatened to toss blubber overboard in
defiance of Norwegian law. Japanese buyers
will reportedly pay up to $37 a pound for
blubber. However, under the IWC moratorium,
the blubber cannot be exported.
It is also not clear that the Japanese
demand is strong enough for the prices of
whale products to withstand a substantial supply
A poll of 1,185 Japanese adults
released in March by the International Fund
for Animal Welfare and Greenpeace found
that 61% had not eaten whale meat since
childhood; 55% neither support nor oppose
commercial whaling; 20% are undecided;
14% are opposed; and only 11% defend commercial
As telling an indicator of Japanese
attitudes may be that on April 6 hundreds of
citizens rushed to the beach at Oosuka-town in
Shizuoka prefect, 120 miles south of Tokyo,
and worked around the clock for two days to
try to save a stranded 73-year-old sperm
whale. Resembling early whale-saving efforts
along the coasts of the U.S. and Australia
more than 30 years ago, the attempt failed,
but by the time the whale died, live TV coverage
had created a consensus that he should be
ceremonially buried rather than butchered.
“If this had happened 20 years ago,”
a Japanese friend told Animal Refuge Kansai
volunteer Jeff Bryant, of Osaka, “the whale
would have been butchered immediately. This
time, many people who were not even members
of any environmental group were trying
to help him as hard as they could.”
Native whaling
Native subsistence whaling was also
to be discussed in Adelaide. Australia contends
that the U.S. misrepresented an
Australian motion in 1997 in allowing the
Makah tribe of western Washington to resume
hunting gray whales, after 70 years, because
the Makah have no actual subsistence need for
whale meat. The Makah killed one whale in
May 1999, but were unsuccessful in several
attempts this year. The Makah hunt was suspended
on June 8 by a panel of the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco,
pending completion of an improved environmental
impact statement.
Of greater conservation concern is
expanding demand from Canadian indigenous
communities to kill extremely endangered
bowhead whales in the Arctic. The whalers
claim there are about 8,000 bowheads in the
western Arctic and 650 in the eastern Arctic;
the whalers kill as many as 80 per year. Other
observers believe the eastern Arctic bowheads
may be so few now that as the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society puts it, “The loss of
even one whale from the population represents
a threat to the species’ recovery.”
Conventional estimates of bowhead
longevity and fecundity have been thrown off
in recent years by the discovery of stone spear
points embedded in the flesh of some recently
killed whales––suggesing that they were up to
150 years old, with a much slower population
replacement cycle than has been believed.
Sonar tests
Not on the May 26 IWC draft agenda,
but certain to be debated at least informally
were findings released on June 3 by
National Marine Fisheries Service-commissioned
whale acoustics expert Darlene Ketten
that Navy anti-submarine sonar tests off the
northern Bahamas on March 15 may have
been responsible for 16 whales of four different
species beaching themselves on the islands
of Abaco, Grand Bahamas, and North
Eleuthera during the next 48 hours. Seven of
the whales died, including four Cuvier beaked
whales and a Blainville’s dense beaked whale,
all of whom are considered extremely rare.
“I’m not ready to say the Navy did
it,” Ketten said, but added that “The coincidence
of the timing and the pattern of the
stranding with the presence of Navy sonars
raises a red flag.”
After the strandings, the Navy suspended
sonar tests which had been set for May
off the New Jersey coast. The Hawaii County
Green Party tried to reopen a lawsuit it filed in
1998 in an unsuccessful attempt to stop similar
testing, just in case such tests––not presently
scheduled––are resumed.
Activists have contended for years,
based on the frequent confluence of strandings
with unusual sources of underwater noise, that
sonar tests harm whales.
The Bahamian strandings produced
more physical evidence than usual: though
most of the remains decomposed too soon to
provide definitve answers, several stranded
beaked whales came up within yards of Center
for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb’s
Bahamian headquarters, and Balcomb was
reportedly able to see fresh blood in their eyes,
inner ears, lungs, and brain tissue.
Balcomb also saw two live whales
with fresh shark bites. “In nine years of studying
these whales, we’ve never seen shark
bites before,” Balcomb told Christopher
Dunagan of the Bremerton Sun in Bremerton,
Washington, near Balcomb’s original research
station on Puget Sound. Balcomb speculated
that the whales were disoriented and unable to
defend themselves.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
founder Paul Watson amplified attention to the
strandings from aboard the Ocean Warrior,
which was already in the vicinity en route to
campaign against whaling in the Faroe Islands
of the North Atlantic.
Further relevant evidence came from
a study of whale response to ordinary ships’
sonar, published in N a t u r e by researchers
from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
and Chicago Zoological Society. They found
that male humpback whales sing 29% longer
at a time when sonar is active nearby, hypothesizing
that the longer songs are a response to
sonic distortion.

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