Now, tell us again why a research program needs a factory ship?
The whaling fleet took the same species of whale they had caught the year before and returned them to Japan boxed in 15kg cardboard cartons, ready for sale. This was done under the guise of 'scientific' whaling, exploiting a loophole in international whaling regulations allowing for the killing of a small amount of whales annually, for research purposes.
When the last remaining high-seas commercial whaling company in Japan was dissolved in 1987, it gave its factory ship and catchers to a new company whose shareholders were all companies formerly involved in whaling.
In the same year a non-profit organisation called the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) was founded.
The new owners of the whaling fleet donated nine million US dollars to the ICR, which in turn promptly chartered the whaling fleet from the new company and set off for the Antarctic using the factory ship, catchers and crew from the commercial hunt to catch whales in the name of science.
So what about the science?
When Japan's scientific whaling program began with a two year 'feasibility study', it had two stated objectives: estimation of biological parameters to improve stock management and elucidation of the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem. ['Improve stock management' means to find ways to increase the annual catch of whales without increasing the risk of depleting the population.]
The whalers said that they wanted to determine age specific mortality - like the actuarial tables for humans that can tell you the expected remaining lifespan of a 45 year old person. After a few years they realised that this was too difficult an objective and revised it to determining the natural mortality rate instead.
This first 'scientific' whaling program, called JARPA, spent 18 years and killed 6,778 minke whales attempting to determine the natural mortality rate, 'M'.
In 2006 an expert workshop of scientists from the International Whaling Commission, meeting in Tokyo, agreed (including the Japanese scientists) that the natural mortality rate was not determined - the confidence limits around estimates of M from JARPA data were so wide that M remains effectively unknown. These were so wide that even a value of M=0 was not excluded.
In other words, 18 years of lethal 'research' had been unable to exclude the possibility that minke whales might be immortal!
Although lots of data were collected by the JARPA scientists, as part of their in claimed attempt to try and understand the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem, the report of the IWC workshop noted that "relatively little progress has been made in addressing this objective".
Two more objectives were added in 1995 and 1996, but they were not reached either. Despite the failure of this huge program to reach a single one of its objectives, the ICR has moved on to a second program, JARPA II, which has already increased the quote of whales that will be killed each season.
This second program and increase were implemented before the workshop to review the first program had taken place. So what is the role of lethal science in JARPA II, and what could be done by non-lethal methods instead?
According to the government of Japan, the new 'research' was aimed at:
- Monitoring whale abundance trends and biological parameters such as pregnancy rate and age at maturity.
- Monitoring prey consumption and the change in blubber thickness.
- Monitoring the effects of contaminants on cetaceans
- Monitoring cetacean habitat such as changes in water temperature, salinity and ice.
- Resolving population structure
- Improving management.
But what does this really mean, how can it be done and what will we learn?
Monitoring whale abundance is easy in principle - you count the whales. But in practice it is harder than it seems.
When the 18 years of data from the first JARPA were analysed by the expert workshop, its conclusion was that the data were 'consistent with a substantial decline, a substantial increase, or approximate stability in minke whale abundance in these geographic areas over the period of JARPA.' In other words nothing had been learned.
To find a whale's age at maturity, the JARPA research required the whale to be killed, in order to examine growth rings in its earplugs (a bit like the growth rings in trees). After 18 years, nothing has been learned from this information, and it seems unlikely that anything will be learned - and in any case the answers this 'research' seeks to provide are not needed.
Pregnancy rates could, in theory, be monitored from biopsy samples but this would not tell us anything new - most mature female minkes are pregnant, something we already know from the past 'research' carried out by Japan.
Monitoring prey consumption and the change in blubber thickness involve killing the whale, weighing its stomach contents and measuring the thickness of the blubber. Data from the 8000 plus minkes killed so far in JARPA and JARPA II has determined that they eat krill - and only krill.
Information about a whale's diet can also be determined by collecting whale faeces for analysis.
Blubber thickness can tell us about the whale's condition; this can also be determined by firing a biopsy dart into the whale. Biopsy darts remove a bit of tissue but do not kill or injure the whale.
The objective of measuring the levels of contaminants in whales has been carefully designed by the JARPA scientists, in order to justify killing the whale. They look at levels of heavy metals in internal organs such as the kidney and liver; there is no way to get these without killing the whale.
But the contaminants that are likely to have most effect on the whales, the organochlorines, are fat soluble and so could be sampled by biopsy dart. In any case, this information is not needed by the International Whaling Commission, and could be obtained from the whales killed to date.
The whalers have already collected a considerable quantity of information on heavy metals in whales from their past program; it is difficult to see what use there is in collecting more.
But if data were needed, it could be obtained by taking samples from southern hemisphere whales killed by accident, particularly those hit by ships, by strandings, or by studying the thousands of samples already taken but not analysed.
The cetacean habitat can also be monitored in a completely not-lethal fashion, by measuring changes in water temperature, salinity and ice.
Just as humans group into tribes and nations, whales group into subpopulations with different characteristics. For example one subpopulation of humpbacks will migrate to one area to give birth and mate, whlie another subpopulation will travel to a different area.
There are genetic differences between these subpopulations, so population structure can most easily be determined from DNA analysis. DNA samples can be obtained by biopsy darts - but the JARPA 'researchers' claim it is too difficult to biopsy whales in the Antarctic.
They also point out that killing the whale allows its meat to be sold on the market, thus defraying the cost of the 'research', while they claim there is no financial return from a biopsy. However, if ew want to resolve population structure, this can be done entirely from DNA analysis - without killing a single whale.
The big lie in an whaling program founded on lies is objective of 'improving management', because 'improved management' simply means bigger commercial quotas. The architects of JARPA II are clear about this.
Japan's whalers complain that the current rules of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which would govern commercial whaling if it were allowed to restart, are 'overly concerned with the protection of whale stocks'. That have clearly stated that it is a primary objective of JARPA II to find evidence that would allow those rules to be relaxed. They have already decided the outcome of their "scientific whaling" - and are attempting to gather selective evidence to fit this outcome.
The Southern Ocean - where Japan's whaling takes place - was made into a whale sanctuary in 1994, with only Japan voting against it. Since then, Japan's 'researchers' have been gathering data to facilitate increased commercial quotas in an area that has been deemed off limits to commercial whaling.
Although Japan exempted itself from the ban on commercial hunting of minkes within the sanctuary area, it accepted that the sanctuary applies to fin and humpback whales. It added both these species to its quota for the 2007/2008 season, but ironically hunted neither - dropping the humpbacks after massive international protest, and reporting that no fins could be found during the expedition.
Whale scientists all over the world study whales without killing or injuring them. Meanwhile, the JARPA 'researchers' insist on using lethal methods not because they are necessary but because they supply whale meat to the markets in Japan and offer an opportunity to train new crew, thus keeping the whaling industry alive.
||Take actual measurements
||Take photos and measure photos
||Calculate from length
||Collect teeth, earplugs, baleen plates
||Estimate from length and sex
||Measure body length and determine age
||Observe same whale over several years
||Examine reproductive glands
||Observe same whale over several years
||Examine reproductive glands
||No non lethal method but can observe when calf is born
||Deduce from feotus
||Observe on breeding grounds
||Biopsy hormone analysis
||Examine Mammary gland
||Observe mother calf pairs
||Determine from pregnancy rate and other data
||Observe whales on breeding grounds
||Examin stomach contents
||Faeces collection biopsy
||Internal tags recovered when whale is killed
||Photo ID satallite tags
||Sample tissues from dead whales
||Biopsy from live whales
Non-lethal methods have huge advantages over lethal ones because they permit repeated observations of the same individual. Lethal methods, by their nature, offer only a snapshot. Once a whale is 'observed' , it cannot be observed again later.
This makes lethal methods particularly unsuitable for the studies of whale behaviour, such as migration, which are of great interest to scientists.