New concerns raised over 'scientific whaling'

Published 26 July 2007

The targeting of pregnant minke whales has raised new concerns over the plans by Japan to kill 50 humpback whales in the Antarctic later this year.

Associate Professor Peter Harrison, director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre and director of Marine Studies in the School of Environmental Science and Management, said small, isolated humpback populations were most at risk from Japanese whaling.

Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research announced this week that of 286 mature female minke whales that were killed in the Antarctic last summer, 262 (91.6%) were pregnant. It claims that the minke whale population had increased to more than the pre-commercial whaling era, making an annual commercial quota sustainable.

“The fact that so many minke whales were pregnant is good,” Professor Harrison said. “But the fact that they have been killed is a double blow, and certainly not something that the Japanese whalers should be proud of. In fact they should be deeply embarrassed by this admission because not only have they targeted breeding females, they have killed part of the next generation of whales,” Professor Harrison said.

“While the minke whale population is relatively strong, the Japanese themselves have admitted that their initial population estimate of 760,000 is completely wrong and is likely to be only about half that size. This reinforces the fact that their pseudo-scientific research program is really commercial-scale whaling masquerading as science.”

Professor Harrison said that of even greater concern was the fact that this coming summer, Japan planned to kill 50 Australian humpback whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in Australian territorial waters south of Australia.

“These are Australian humpback whales that are born and bred in tropical Australian waters including the Great Barrier Reef. Japan should immediately agree to cease these whaling practices, as requested by the majority of member nations of the International Whaling Commission,” he said.

“The IWC has consistently stated that it does not require the information that the Japanese claim to be gaining as a result of their ‘special permit’ whaling, and there have been more than 40 resolutions requesting them to cease operations, but these have again been ignored by Japan.”

Professor Harrison said if female humpbacks were targeted later this year it would reduce the rate of recovery of Australian populations and could have a devastating impact on smaller, South Pacific populations.

“Some South Pacific populations of humpback whales are very small and have not recovered from commercial whaling last century. If the Japanese kill the breeding females that would have a major impact on their recovery and threaten the viability of these small populations,” he said.

“There are no scientifically valid reasons for killing these whales and there are very few credible research papers published as a result of the previous Japanese ‘scientific’ whaling program, so there is no excuse for hunting humpback whales in the Whale Sanctuary.”

Trish and Wally Franklin, PhD researchers with the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre and directors of The Oceania Project (Hervey Bay), say that the proposed whaling will impact on the whale watching industry along Australia’s East Coast.

“Our research shows that a significant cohort of humpbacks that have been bringing delight to whale watchers in Hervey Bay for the last 20 years are the breeding females who return to the Bay annually and are now under threat. The Australian whale watching industry is worth more than $300 million to the Australian economy each year,” Trish Franklin said.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.