Number 2, 25 June 1996
Coverage of the
International Whaling Commission's
1996 Annual Meeting
June 23-28, Aberdeen, Scotland
About ECO

 

Whatever Happened to the Scientific Committee?

By Dr. Sidney Holt

Page 18 of this year's Report of the Scientific Committee carries the most
acrimonious attack, on one of its most brilliant and distinguished members,
that I have seen in 35 years of attendance at the IWC. And the written
account is mild compared with what I have been told was actually said by a
few of the attackers; it is an open secret that they were led by members
from the Norwegian, US and UK delegations. Their target was Dr. Justin
Cooke, the designer of the victorious formula for the so-called Catch Limit
Algorithm of the Revised Management Procedure (RMP).

Dr. Cooke's "crime" was to try to reproduce the Norwegian estimates of the
number of minke whales in the Northeast Atlantic from surveys conducted in
1989 and 1995. He is the only non-Norwegian scientist who has actually been
doing the work the Committee has said is necessary. His double crime was to
change his mind about his participation in a consensus statement which
emerged from the Oslo meeting of the Committee's Abundance Estimation
Working Group last April, in the light of further analyses he had since
made. For that the malicious story has been put around that he has forsaken
his scientific "principles" on the altar of his well-known "green" beliefs;
i.e. that he is now cheating.

Readers may remember that last year the Scientific Committee said it was in
future "...determined to avoid its mistake of prematurely accepting an
abundance estimate" and that it is "...developing procedures to minimize
the likelihood that similar mistakes happen in the future." Dr. Cooke was
the man who revealed the previous mistake and his caution was supported at
the time by a few worried Committee members -- which subsequent events have
proven to be right.

The majority of the Committee this year has insisted on repeating the same
mistake and, furthermore, has not followed its own agreed procedure. That
procedure involved very intensive computer simulations of analytical
methods. Cooke completed and presented to the Committee the full suite of
required simulations (more than 400) for his own method; Dr. Schweder, the
Norwegian scientist mainly involved, only presented the results of four
simulations for his method, mainly because his software is so inefficient
that it takes an inordinate time to run. Yet instead of waiting to complete
the outstanding simulations, and itself calculating the resulting numbers
by both methods, the Committee agreed simply to "accept" the Norwegian
estimates.

Analyzing the Analysis

Let us be clear about this. The controversy is not at this time so much
about the numbers of whales. Rather, it is about a validated method of
analysis. Dr. Cooke, working alone, did not in the end have time to
calculate the number implied by his method because he concentrated on
rigorously following the simulation requirements of the Committee. Dr.
Schweder, by contrast, did not perform the crucial simulation tests, but he
did calculate a number by his still unvalidated method.

Why? Let me offer a suggestion. In order to justify, retrospectively, the
level of their resumed commercial whaling under objections to IWC
decisions, the Norwegian authorities must have a figure for the number of
minke whales. Because they have based the defense of their practices on
adherence to the IWC's RMP, they must have the "right" number, i.e. not the
"correct" number but rather the right one for that justification. This is
approximately at least 80,000 whales.

They thought they had it when, in 1992, the Scientific Committee was
mistakenly persuaded to accept Schweder's estimate of 86,736 from the 1989
survey. Later the raw data were declassified and in 1994 Cooke reported he
had been unable to verify this figure and instead came up with results
implying a much lower number--about 53,000. He had been unable to find out
the cause of the discrepancy.

Programming Errors

In 1995 the Norwegians revealed they had found programming errors in their
software. But instead of simply correcting these and recalculating -- which
would have given a means of comparing the two methods objectively -- they
said they had also modified the method itself; this enabled Schweder to
present a "revised" figure of 75,000--so still in the right ball-park for
retrospective justification of the Norwegian 1994 catch limit.

The Committee, to its credit, did not adopt that new number, but that did
not stop the Norwegian authorities from announcing to their press and to
the rest of the world that it was the correct one.

In the following months the Norwegian estimate was revised down again, to
about 67,000, and Cooke's to about 43,000. The Scientific Committee did not
investigate this discrepancy, despite Cooke's pleas to do so. But meanwhile
the new survey had been carried out, from which the Norwegians obtained the
unverified 1995 number of 118,000.

The RMP depends on a sort of average if there has been more than one recent
survey. The average of 67,000 and 118,000 is 91,000. Strangely, this is
rather more than the Norwegians needed to justify their 1995 catches, but
sufficient to justify the much higher limit they have set themselves for
1996.

What is worrying is that these sorts of games tend to discredit not only
the Scientific Committee, but also the Commission itself. How can the
public, or even the scientific community in general, hold to their recently
and laboriously restored confidence in the Commission as a responsible
international institution in the face of such behavior, especially of the
contemptible persecution of the mildest and best mannered of
"whistle-blowers"?

Historical Perspective

I became involved in the affairs of the IWC in 1960, at a time when
Commissioners, led then by the US, vigorously expressed their
dissatisfaction with the way that the Scientific Committee had been
acquiescing in a numbers game that gave the whaling countries virtually all
that they wanted. Recently, Dr. Schweder has, under the cloak of
"historical research," publicly attacked, as individuals, those members of
the Committee whose views at that time happened to coincide with the
policies of their governments. While I abhor Schweder's behavior, it might
be useful for both the public and other, independent, scientists to examine
the relationship between the "official" scientific representatives of the
Norwegian and the US Governments, and of the policies of their countries:
one to make as much money as possible from increasing minke whaling; the
other to avoid at all costs any confrontation with Norway which might force
its Administration to follow Department of Commerce advice and apply
economic sanctions.

If the IWC's scientists continue to rubber-stamp the whalers' own estimates
of numbers, then one long step will have been taken towards the
marginalization of the IWC. This is what happened in the early years of the
IWC, with well-known disastrous results. It is happening again.

We seem to be entering a phase in whaling history in which governments of
the IWC acquiesce in de facto self-regulation by the whaling industries,
with non-whaling countries merely saying--through mild resolutions--"tut
tut!" to escalating commercial whaling under objections and scientific
permits.

To help re-polish the Commission's tarnished image, the scientists should
at least be required to be rigorous in devising systematic and credible
checks on analytical methods and their application, and adhering strictly
to them. A reconsideration of the validity of the basic survey data is also
now called for. For example, the numbers spewed out from the computers
depend critically on the ability of the observers carrying out the surveys
accurately and consistently to judge the distance of a spotted whale from
the vessel in all environmental conditions, unaided by instruments. Anyone
with seagoing experience knows this is extraordinarily difficult to do.

The Missing Numbers

In accepting the RMP the Commission was led by scientists to believe that
the minimal information required for its eventual
implementation--reasonable estimates of current numbers and of their
statistical uncertainty--could be available when needed. This is evidently
not yet the case, though it should not forever be out of reach.

The Commission decided not to implement the RMP until all other elements of
a Revised Management System (RMS) had also been agreed and were embedded in
the Schedule. The Commission does not itself need a number at this time; it
does need a tested and agreed method for obtaining a number when it is
required.

Why is the Scientific Committee in such a frantic hurry to "accept" an
unvalidated number in this case?


Caribbean Circus

The Japanese have started to crack the whip to ensure that their Caribbean
minions understand the purpose for which they have been recruited.

Japan's Ringmaster was overheard saying to the Caribbean Puppetmaster on
Monday, "These Caribbean countries have got to be kept in line, otherwise
we will cut off their funding." Puppetmaster was then heard to stammer
assurances that they would work for their keep.

Meanwhile a neophyte Caribbean commissioner--no stranger to being purchased
since in his own country he was elected to Parliament on the ticket of one
party but was bought over to serve the ruling party--seemed anxious to
demonstrate he had learned his lines well. On Sunday morning he made a
statement that his government is committed to the total utilization of its
resources in the sea. Translation: Our Japanese ringmaster has shouted
orders and "For a few yen more" we are compelled to say that anything
living in the sea is fair game to be hunted to extinction.


Seattle editorial:
Washington Press Condemns Makah Hunt

The leading newspaper in the State of Washington this week called for the
IWC to reject the U.S. bid for an aboriginal kill of gray whales.

The Seattle Times, which covers a huge area of northern Washington,
including the Olympic Peninsula where the Makah Tribe lives, declared: "No
more harpoons. Whales are for watching."

The states of Washington, Oregon and California, where millions of citizens
watch the migrating gray whales each year, are mobilizing to oppose the
kill that is being pushed by a handful of Makah and the Clinton/Gore
Administration in Washington.

"The Makah nation's request to resume its long-abandoned whale hunt set up
an awkward clash of values that threatens to weaken the U.S. case against
whaling around the world," states the Seattle Times in its 23 June
editorial. "The result is a public policy picture about as pretty as a
butchered whale carcass on Seattle's Alki Beach."

"Whether the motivation is cultural or commercial is irrelevant. The Makahs
make a strong case, bolstered by Inuit whaling rights in the Bering Sea.
But their claim is no more legitimate than that of the Japanese or the
Norwegians, equally ancient whaling cultures that propose to hunt healthy
populations of minke whales. Those whale hunts have been firmly opposed by
the U.S.," the editorial continues.

"By supporting the Makah bid to the IWC, the U.S. sets up an untenable
double standard: Native American whaling is legitimate but Japanese whaling
is not. It will get worse; tribes from Washington to the Bering Sea are
sharpening their harpoons, waiting for the Makahs to get the go-ahead,"
says the Seattle newspaper.

"As creatures that routinely migrate the globe, whales demand a coherent
and consistent international policy. If the world community approves the
Makah's whale hunt, then Japan deserves the same."

"But the long, grim history of commercial whaling points to a tougher
response: No more harpoons. Whales are for watching."

The whaling nations are hungrily anticipating the huge loophole in IWC
rules that a Makah quota would create. In a statement submitted to this IWC
meeting, the Global Guardian Trust, a front group for the Japanese whaling
industry, declared: "GGT applauds the initiative taken by the United States
to reintroduce a small-scale whaling for Makah Indians and strongly hopes
that the United States further extends its support to other whaling
activities such as Norwegian and Japanese coastal whaling."


Butchering Bottlenose -- A Faroese Infraction

For the second year running, the Danish Delegation and its acolytes were
frustrated by bottlenose whales and the Infractions Committee.

The Faroese publication Grindabod revealed the continued intention of
NAMMCO, (the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission) to get their knives
and forks on these whales.

But when the Faroese slaughter of bottlenose whales was discussed, Mr. Finn
Lynge, Alternate Danish Commissioner, denied that Denmark will accept
management of bottlenose whales by NAMMCO. Denmark agrees that this species
is protected by the Moratorium, with all its implications.

Mr. Lynge, however, defended the Faroese practice of "assisted strandings,"
only to find himself floundering like a beached bottlenose. Unbeknownst to
him, the Faroese scientist, Dorete Bloch, had recently published a
paper--scientific and peer reviewed, of course--in the Journal of the
Zoological Society of London. She explains that in the Faroes, bottlenose
whales are either killed once they have accidentally stranded or are
deliberately driven ashore and then slaughtered.

Her historical catch records demonstrate that 17 whales have been
deliberately driven ashore and killed since this species was made a
protected stock by the Commission in 1977--indisputable infractions of IWC
regulations, breaches of the Moratorium and breaches of Faroese Law which
also forbids hunting of this species.

But the Faroese have even more explaining to do. On 20th August 1995, two
bottlenose whales were killed. On September 14th, three more were killed.
Reports from the Faroes state that all five whales were deliberately driven
ashore.


LOCH WHALING

(Sung to the tune of "Loch Lomond")

Oh, Japan will take the high road,

And Norway will take the low road,

And Norway will be a whalin' afore ye,

For me and my harpoon will never never part,

I wonder if there're Minke in Loch Lomond?


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