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Science from Lethal Whaling Just Isn't Relevant

| Eva Marrero
Topics: International Whaling Commission, Slaughter, Whaling

With Japan's whaling ships en route to kill whales in the Southern Antarctic sanctuary, a closer look at their so-called "research" is warrented.

Scientific research: this familiar term has long been used by the Japanese government to prop up its annual slaughtering of hundreds of whales. Japan is one of three remaining countries that hunt whales commercially on a large scale today: Norway, Japan, and Iceland. 

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) recognized the urgent need to halt the world’s whaling practices for the larger goal of conserving fast-dwindling whale species, and, to that effect, it enacted a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling. Where most countries saw the long-term benefit of trying to restore such critically endangered animal populations, four countries famously dissented: Norway, Iceland, South Korea, and Japan. Although the IWC Convention  contains an antiquated clause allowing special permits for the purpose of scientific whaling, Japan has found itself in large part at odds with the rest of the non-whaling world.

In each case where scientific whaling permits are issued, the country must outline the specific goals of the research program and why their stated sample sizes are needed to achieve these goals.

Japan claims its “scientific whaling” program contributes unparalleled science to the body of whale ecology and IWC management goals. It is with this excuse that the country kills an average of 330 minke whales, 25 bryde’s whales, 100 sei whales, and up to 10 sperm whales per year, which is a reduction in numbers from before the UN International Court of Justice ruled against Japan’s scientific whaling.  Nonetheless, Japan’s behavior does not go unchallenged on the international stage. On March 31st of 2014, the UN’s International Court of Justice found that Japanese whalers were not using their so-called scientific whaling program in a manner compatible with IWC’s founding Scientific Research clause and ordered Japan to stop its hunts. Japanese whaling fleets responded with the resumption of their whaling operation in Antarctica and, despite a lack of support from IWC, with the implementation of a new lethal program, NEWREP-A.  

A recent study from Elsevier’s Marine Policy sought to investigate whether the claims of Japanese whalers are valid: does amassing data from the contents of hundreds of whale and dolphin stomachs result in “superior science,” in terms of quality or quantity?

In “The Scientific Value of Scientific Whaling,” researchers Isabelle Cote and Corinna Favaro show that the lethal destruction of whales does not produce superior whale science to that derived from non-invasive methods practiced by other countries. 

In coming to their damning conclusion, Cote and Favaro examined a total of 838 scientific publications on the topic of whale ecology and conservation from both whaling and non-whaling countries between the years of 1986 and 2013. They aimed to compare the “scientific value” of papers from whaling vs. non-whaling countries: they did this by comparing the overall number of papers produced, the quality of publications based on their acceptance rates to accredited scientific journals, and the papers’ use among the rest of the scientific community.

What Cote and Favaro discovered is a slap in the face for Japan, and perhaps, a sobering realization for the rest of the world about this country’s hollow promises.

Only one-third of the publications from whaling countries were admitted to scientific journals. This was half the number of publications from non-whaling countries.

They also discovered that not only were there fewer publications overall in accredited journals from whaling countries as compared to non-whaling countries, but that the research conducted through lethal means was about four times less likely to be cited by other researchers.

This paper, produced in December of 2016, is a shining example of science at its core: capable of undoing misconceptions, or in this case, dismantling intentional fallacies, of prior so-called science.


Image sourced from article.