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No excuse for 'scientific whaling'


Brigid Veale
16 November 2007
Southern Cross University researchers have challenged the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research to a full debate on its program of ‘scientific whaling’, which this summer will include the killing of 50 Australian humpback whales.

Associate Professor Peter Harrison, director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, has refuted claims by the Institute that lethal research is necessary to obtain accurate information on these whales.

The Institute issued a media release in response to a report on the ABC’s 7.30 Report this week which highlighted the work being done by SCU’s Whale Research Centre on new non-lethal techniques for collecting genetic data on the humpback population.

Professor Harrison said the data was obtained by genetic testing, using the DNA in skin samples left behind in the water after photographically identified whales had breached, together with small biopsy samples of humpback whales from Alaska provided by one of the research partners, Professor Scott Baker from Oregon State University, USA.

The research project, funded by an Australian Research Council grant in collaboration with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, will provide a new and humane way of determining the age of whales.

“This research will provide essential information for managing populations of endangered or vulnerable whale species,” Professor Harrison said.

“It will demonstrate again that there is no excuse for a ‘scientific whaling’ program.”

Professor Harrison said the DNA testing, in conjunction with an extensive 15 year photographic-identification study under way by Trish and Wally Franklin, PhD candidates with the Centre and directors of The Oceania Project, would provide extensive information on genetic relationships between whales, the sex of the whales and their age.

“This is a long-term and carefully planned collaborative research project that will provide real scientific information on humpback whale populations and their ecology using non-lethal methods recommended by the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee,” he said.

“Our research is based on benign scientific methods that will provide meaningful data for managing whale populations, unlike the lethal methods used by Japanese whalers that have failed to provide useful data despite more than 7,000 whales having been killed over the past 20 years,” Professor Harrison said.

Japan’s whaling fleet will set sail this week for the Southern Ocean. For the first time, their catch will include 50 humpback whales, as well as 935 minke and 50 fin whales.

“These are Australian humpback whales that are born and bred in tropical Australian waters including the Great Barrier Reef,” Professor Harrison said.

“The largest breeding humpbacks are likely to be targeted which will reduce the rate of recovery of Australian populations and disrupt long-term research programs by Australian scientists, 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.

“The International Whaling Commission 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 dozens of resolutions requesting them to cease operations, but these have again been ignored.”

Professor Harrison said a new report by a panel of legal experts in London had also challenged the legal status of Japan’s whaling operations, backing the findings of law experts in Sydney and Paris.

The London Report on Illegal Whaling, released this week, recommends action against the Japanese government for its violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The report found that Japan’s whaling was ‘for primarily commercial purposes’ and constituted international trade.

“We want to see a full and open debate based on science to ensure that we protect the future of humpback whale populations throughout the southern hemisphere,” Professor Harrison said.

Photo: Associate Professor Peter Harrison.