Number 3, 26 June 1996
Coverage of the
International Whaling Commission's
1996 Annual Meeting
June 23-28, Aberdeen, Scotland
About ECO

 

The Usual Disinformation


by Dr. Sidney Holt

Predictably, and as usual, Norwegian officials, scientists and whalers,
while gloating over what they think is a great victory against
"environmentalists," are being careless with the facts.

Senior scientist Lars Walle has claimed--outrageously, I think--that:
"This (the Norwegian estimate of the number of minke whales in the
Northeast Atlantic) is the best calculation ever of whale numbers
anywhere," and "We know more about this population of minkes than about any
whale."

Best? With huge and unexplained variations between years, between surveys
and between sub-areas? Most of us thought the gray whale estimates by North
American scientists were pretty good, consistent and sufficient to show
long-term trends of recovery--which the Norwegian figures are not. Even the
IDCR minke estimates for the Southern Ocean are better, and--partly because
IDCR surveys are conducted under IWC auspices--are accepted with less
question by competent scientists with no axes to grind.

Norwegian Commissioner Kare Bryn has told the representatives of press,
radio and TV: "The stock is large and increasing." Interestingly, the
Scientific Committee, and even the Norwegian scientists, have said nothing
about this. And rightly. The figures do not give any evidence whatsoever
about overall stock increases (or decreases).

Unfortunately, disinformation sticks. Almost every media comment talks
about the numbers of whales now being sufficient to justify resumed
whaling," and the like. But the difference between the Norwegian figures of
68,000 for 1989 and 118,000 for 1995 is statistically insignificant.

Female minkes bearing twins, even triplets to satisfy whalers' needs

OK, forget statistical theory. If these two numbers are taken at their face
values, then the minke whales have been increasing at 10 percent per year
for the past six years, despite continued Norwegian whaling. Most
scientists think this is biologically impossible. A few might argue that
such a high rate of increase could occur in a greatly depleted population
under protection. But, according to Drs. Walle and Schweder, the minkes of
the Northeast Atlantic are not far below their pristine number, even after
50 years of intense exploitation! If that were so the rate of increase, if
any, would necessarily be very much slower. It does not compute.

Surveys under the microscope

The Norwegian results are even more bizarre when looked at by survey blocks
("small areas"). Consider the entire Barents Sea, including both the
inshore waters and the open sea, and running from Bear Island to the coast
of Kola. The minke whales feeding off the Kola coast, in an area of 94,000
km2, are said to have declined from 15,000 in 1989 to only 1,000 in 1995.
But while, in 1989, one survey vessel tracked 2500km, the 1995 track was
only 730km, so presumably that 1995 number is not very reliable.

For the most of the Barents Sea (769,000km2 ; tracks 8400km in 1989 and
3500km in 1995) the whales are supposed to have increased from 13,000 to
44,000, i.e., by more than three-fold in six years!

In the southern part of the survey area--the northern North Sea and the
Norwegian Sea, involving two vessels--proper comparison is difficult
because the area of the latter is, in the Norwegian presentation, given as
479,000km2 in 1989 but as 309,000km2 in 1995. In the Southern North Sea
alone (260,000km2; track 3300km in 1989, 2800km in 1995) the numbers
estimated were 5600 and 20,300 respectively, an increase of more than three
and a half times. If an adjustment is made for the different survey areas
in 1989 and 1995 then the total southern part went from 17,500 to 31,200
whales - nearly doubled!

Seek the reasons for inconsistent figures

In looking at the Southern North Sea figures, it is worth noting that the
SCANS survey of 1994 gave a figure of only 3000 - 4000 minke whales in the
same area. SCANS was an intensive, collaborative, international operation
under the auspices of the European Union, involving many vessels. Yet
scientists in the Scientific Committee who were also themselves responsible
for the SCANS survey, and have highly praised it in print, could not agree
with Cooke that its results had a bearing on the dispute about the
Norwegian estimate, for the same area, the following year.

The fact that the 1995 North Sea numbers were enormously higher than the
comparable 1989 numbers, and than the SCANS number, means that something is
seriously wrong. The differences certainly cannot be explained by
population increase. Nor can they be explained, as some Scientific
Committee members tried to do, by suggesting that the whales in one small
area in 1989 were in another (adjacent?) small area in 1995; the detailed
breakdown in the Norwegian submission gives no evidence for that.

Fifty-five percent of all the estimated Northeast Atlantic minke whales are
said to be either in the Northern North Sea or in the Barents Sea. The
Barents Sea survey area (excluding Kola) is three times that of the
Northern North Sea. According to the Norwegian estimates,

just over twice as many minke whales are to be found in the Barents Sea as
in the North Sea. With whales being so much more concentrated in the North
Sea it seems surprising that the commercial whalers are always so keen to
earn their money mainly in the harsh Arctic!

What next?

The Commission should, I think, attend to Justin Cooke's cri de coeur in
his Working Paper 9 to the Committee Plenary, written at the height of the
acrimonious debate: "Even the most cursory reality checks on the data and
models used can indicate substantial downward revisions of the estimated
numbers of whales in areas of special interest such as the North Sea ... It
would be wise for the Committee to conduct some feasibility checks before
putting estimates that will appear implausible to lay people." He might
have added "...and also to other scientists...". Anyway, the Committee paid
no heed. Perhaps others outside the Scientific Committee, and even outside
the IWC circle, will do so.


Pollution and the Pilot Whale


The British Beef War has been a clear demonstration of the precautionary
principle when it comes to what we put in our mouths. With ever increasing
concerns about the safety of the food we eat, it is surprising that the
pilot whale hunt continues in the Faroe Islands.

In 1978, the Faroese Government warned people not to eat whale meat more
than once a week because of the discovery of high levels of mercury in the
flesh. Government health warnings now urge people not to eat pilot whale
meat and blubber more than twice a month and pregnant women not to eat it
at all. These whales have been shown to carry alarmingly high levels of
heavy metals and organochlorines in the flesh and blubber.

Studies have been carried out on the Islands to find out if there are any
detectable trends in children and babies which could be associated with
pollutants assimilated by eating pilot whales. Already, Faroese women have
been found to carry up to ten times more PCBs in their milk than mothers in
Sweden.

Despite warnings, concerns and studies, simple math shows that Islanders
are eating far more of these contaminated meals than is said to be safe.
The Faroese Government is clearly irresponsible in allowing pilot whales to
be consumed.

But there is the other aspect to the issue. Pilot whales killed in the
Faroes are a pelagic, not coastal, species, demonstrating that the
irresponsible actions of industrialized countries are having far reaching
effects. It may be possible to measure the effects of these pollutants on
the people of the Faroe Islands but just what effects are they having on
the whales? This same story is being repeated all over the world.

We need time and commitment to study and understand the impact we are
having on the whales, our environment and ourselves.


Driftnets: World's Largest Whale Kill?


While "scientific," "aboriginal" and commercial whaling matters are being
hotly debated, one of the largest kills of whales and small cetaceans is
being quietly ignored. The 1992 United Nations ban on large-scale pelagic
driftnets has failed to consign the world's most destructive fisheries
practice to the history books.

The DriftNetwork (an Earthtrust-sponsored network that monitors high seas
driftnetting activity) and the U.S. Coast Guard have documented
Taiwanese-controlled high seas driftnet boats blithely defying the UN
moratorium. Although the number of boats still active is greatly reduced
from the over 1,500 boats of the late 1980s to 1991--when over 30,000 miles
of nets were laid each night--each boat still has the capacity to wipe out
entire pods of dolphins and take sperm whales by the score.

In 1993, Earthtrust found two Taiwanese registered driftnet boats in
Singapore that had just come back from the Indian Ocean and were heading to
the North Pacific. In 1995, the US Coast Guard intercepted a boat in the
North Pacific. The crew revealed that they had recently been converting
other boats in Kaoshiung for covert driftnetting.

This does not bode well for sperm whales in particular. In 1990 crewmen
from a Taiwanese driftnet boat told EIA investigators that they estimated
that over 50 sperm whales were taken by each boat during the fishing season
in the Indian Ocean whale sanctuary. At that time, before the moratorium,
there were over 200 driftnet boats in the Indian Ocean. Today, even if the
"pirate" driftnetters visiting these waters were numbered only in the
dozens, the sperm whale kill would still be the largest in the world.

The question of "whale bycatch" is an important one, and DNA studies of
major whalemeat markets are showing most species on sale. It is an open
question whether meat from whales killed in driftnet operations is making
it into retail markets. What is not in question is whether the kill is
occurring.

It is not possible at this time to estimate the number of boats that are
working the high seas without governments becoming more involved in
monitoring the activity.

The U.S. attempts 100 percent coverage of the North Pacific. In 1995 the
Coast Guard tracked and apprehended the "pirate" Luyan Bu 6006 which was
finally boarded and arrested for "disobeying the orders of the Coast Guard"
after it tried to escape. Yet this was not uncovered by a Coast Guard
overflight but by a Hawaii longline boat which happened across it. Had the
longliner gone elsewhere that day, the Luyan Bu 6006 might still be plying
the North Pacific. Another pirate driftnet boat, suspected to be Taiwanese,
was seen twice in one summer, 30 days apart.

We cannot be complacent on the driftnet issue any more than we can be on
other whaling issues. It makes no difference to whale populations how a
whale is killed--only that it is. Moratorium notwithstanding, driftnets may
still be the largest "whaling" kill on earth.


Food Security?


The December conference on food security held in Kyoto, Japan was a clever
attempt to gain global support for commercial whaling by waving the flag of
need to feed the planet.

Billed to the world as a conference to talk about grain production and
export with a minor emphasis on fisheries, it took a very different
approach. While 95 countries came to Kyoto with honorable intentions to
develop a strategy to feed a growing world population, Japan was determined
to use the outcome of the conference to push its unilateral agenda on
bluefin tuna and whales.

Japan promised access to NGOs with FAO status yet barred the World Society
for the Protection of Animals (WSPA - an FAO and UN accredited group) from
attendance because it did not like WSPA's whaling policies.

The Kyoto Declaration and plan of action was carefully drafted. Not once
was "whale" used in the text. But the agenda was clear: a push to establish
a new category of small type coastal whaling. Although IWC has the mandate
to handle all issues relating to whaling, it appears that the Japanese
government is hoping to charge forward under the cloak of the FAO.

The U.S., Argentina, Australia and New Zealand made a strong statement at
the end of the Kyoto Conference saying that nothing agreed at the meeting
would affect the IWC. You can read their statement in full, it was
distributed to the IWC meeting as IWC148/30.


Cruelly Caribbean

The electric lance debate is walking the last mile to a final vote and all
eyes are turned to the Caribbean, the critical voting bloc. Noted for their
strong stands on humanitarian issues, the island lot will surely align
themselves with the independent scientific arguments since, clearly, a ban
of this cruel device is justified. Skeptics charge, however, that Caribbean
concern for whales victimized by hand-thrown electrocution spears is
secondary compared to suffering even more intense--the painful potential
loss of yen.


Makah Elders:
Response to U.S. Commissioner Baker


by Alberta Thompson and Dottie Chamblin of the Makah Indian Tribe

Dr. Baker made several misleading claims in his statement yesterday on the
Makah whaling issue. We must inform the delegations to the International
Whaling Commission of the truth:

Dr. Baker stated that "the tribal council proceeded in an extremely
cautious manner in this request by holding an advisory vote on whaling by
Makah members." This is not true. In fact, the Council unilaterally decided
to ask for a kill quota in early 1995, informing the U.S. government and
even the IWC meeting in Ireland last year. Only last September was the
issue presented to the Makah people--and only then in a little-publicized
"advisory vote" that saw fewer than 20 percent of voters polled.

Dr. Baker stated that "the proposal represents the desire of the Makah
Indian Tribe, as expressed by its governing body, the Tribal Council." In
fact, The Makah Tribal Council has been functioning without a quorum. Two
council members have been absent on sick leave. One of these members is the
Treasurer, whose presence is required under tribal by-laws to make any
council meeting legal. Therefore the actions of the Tribal Council have no
legal authority.

Dr. Baker stated that the whaling proposal would "continue an ancient
tradition." In fact, tradition is being ignored because the runaway Tribal
Council is pursuing its agenda against the wishes of the Tribal Elders, who
are traditionally the most respected leaders of the Makah Tribe.

We cannot stand by in silence while the United States Government
misrepresents the situation and the Makah People. We have come to Aberdeen
to bear witness.


U.S. Congressman Opposes Makah Whale Quota


The United States Representative in Congress for northwest Washington State
has called upon the U.S. whaling commissioner to withdraw the proposal to
the IWC for a quota of gray whales for the Makah Indian Tribe.

Rep. Jack Metcalf, a conservative Republican whose congressional district
includes the Olympic Peninsula and the Makah Reservation, stated in a 19
June letter to Dr. James Baker:

"I want to strongly urge you to change your position. Granting the request
would be a very bad decision, especially in light of the fact that the gray
whale was designated as an endangered species as recently as two years ago.
The tribe wants to hunt five whales a year, and 13 bands in Canada have
said that they will also harvest whales if the Makah Tribe starts the
practice."

"Tribal officials insist that the whales would be sued for ceremonial and
subsistence purposes. However, seven elders of the Makah Tribe strongly
oppose the hunt. Some of them have questioned the motives of the tribal
officials making the request, fearing the hunt will become a commercial
enterprise."

"According to the June 19th edition of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, one
gray whale could fetch as much as $1 million in Japan, and Norwegian
whaling interests have offered the tribe harpoons and a boat."

"As a member of both the Native American and Fisheries and Wildlife
subcommittees of the Resources Committee, I intend to fully explore the
ramifications of the proposed whale hunt. I would appreciate your taking
these issues into consideration and withhold your approval pending thorough
public deliberation," Representative Metcalf concluded.

The growing outcry in the State of Washington and across America against
the Clinton/Gore pro-whaling policy is forcing a reassessment at the
highest levels of the White House, according to sources in Washington, D.C.


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