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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



Aussie Media interest in JARPA review

I was surprised to see Australian media shop ABC pick up on the IWC Scientific Committee review of the JARPA programme today, at least until I realised that they were probably contacted with the story by someone looking for publicity, rather than finding the story about it themselves...

Dr Nick Gales of the Australian Antarctic Division is a man on a mission to develop non-lethal whale research methods, to counter the argument that the ICR's research programmes combining both lethal and non-lethal research techniques are the most effective and cost efficient method of obtaining useful results.

Of course, (as I've often noted before) the meaning of "useful results" depends on your perspective - if you are from Australia or New Zealand the chances are that results that help reduce scientific uncertainty associated with inputs of the RMP's catch limit algorithm aren't useful at all - they are terribly inconvenient, as scientific uncertainty is one argument that can be employed to argue against sustainable whaling (to a degree). On the other hand, if you don't have a problem with the concept of whaling, then reducing scientific uncertainties is something to be welcomed, from the perspective of natural resource management.

Anyway, here's the ABC's interview with Nick Gales, with some interjections from yours truly:
TONY EASTLEY: It's never washed with anti-whaling nations, but for the past two decades Japan has invoked science as the justification for its modern-day whale hunts.

Now Japan's scientific whaling program is under review.

An International Whaling Commission delegation is in Tokyo assessing the results of Japan's 18-year whaling program, known as JARPA.

The IWC wants to know whether Japanese whale researchers could've garnered their information through non-lethal means.
Sorry, but I have to interrupt - that's just one of the things that the review will look at. The full set of objectives of the review are noted clearly at the IWC's homepage, with the question on utility of non-lethal methods being the last of four objectives listed.
One of the IWC delegates is Dr Nick Gales from the Australian Antarctic Division. He's speaking here with AM's Karen Barlow.

NICK GALES: We're faced with a fairly large number of papers that they'll bring to us which will describe the science they've done, and most of those papers are supposed to synthesise the work they've been doing over the last 18 years.

So we go through each and every one of those papers in fairly close detail, and we're supposed to then come to some conclusion about especially whether or not the original objectives, or the modified objectives through the 18 years have been fulfilled, and whether that's actually of any use to the IWC.
Sorry to interrupt again, but it's worth remembering that, as noted above, many members of the IWC are against whaling, and thus can be expected to find no use at all in any information that is regarded as useful to scientists in assessing the status of whale stocks such as the Antarctic minke and the degree to which they can be harvested sustainably without fear of negative repercussions.

... but on with the show:
KAREN BARLOW: Because the Japanese have been saying all along that this is necessary for the management of the whales, and it will help them in the long-term, in their long-term survival?

NICK GALES: That's exactly right.
Actually that's an extremely poor representation of the Japanese position. The research is argued to be necessary to provide the scientific basis for sustainable and optimal use (harvest) of abundant whale stocks. Stocks for which long-term survival is in doubt were not the subject of the JARPA research - the Antarctic minke whale was the subject, and even the politically influenced IUCN red list classified this species in the category of "lower risk" in 1996.

But handing it back to Dr. Gales...
The... you know, the Government of Japan have argued very solidly that this science is required, and the only way to achieve this information is to kill whatever number of whales it is that they put their permit in for. The 18 years of JARPA have killed about almost 6,800 whales over that period, minke whales.

KAREN BARLOW: The Australian Government has taken a very firm position against Japan. Does that in any way influence the work you're doing as part of this IWC delegation?

A-hem... Dr. Gales...
role is, as a scientist, to come in and assess the science and then to advise the Australian Government and the policy component of the Government about what that science says.

And if the science says… if it was to turn out that this was all terrific and important science, I'd be informing them of that, but if our conclusion is that the science was not necessary, and that the quality of the science was not up to scratch, then I'd equally be reporting that.
I don't like having to say it, but I'm personally doubtful as to whether Dr. Gales can be taken on his word that he is acting purely "as a scientist", without political interest.

Recently, when Nature reported his (currently incomplete, unverified, and unimplemented in the JARPA research area in the Antarctic) development of a technique to age a whale non-lethally via DNA analysis of their shed skin, he was quoted as saying that, although the successful development of the method was unlikely to stop the ICR from employing lethal methods, "at least we can use it to apply more political pressure" (my emphasis).

Thus I have the strong impression that Dr. Gales is not especially interested in objective scientific judgements on these matters...
KAREN BARLOW: This report, if it does find that the lethal research undertaken by Japan is not necessary, could any action be taken of a permanent nature?

NICK GALES: No, the rules under the Article 8, under which scientific whaling is conducted, means that even if… even if there was a consensus that none of this was necessary it would still not compel the Government of Japan to actually change anything, because they don't have to respond to it. All they have do is be a part of the review and conduct the review.
In fact, the 1997 IWC/SC did identify areas for further work, and the ICR indeed worked to address them, as indicated on pages 5-8 of this review document.

Constructive feedback appears to be welcome, even if politically motivated feedback is not.
KAREN BARLOW: So if that's the case, why are you going through this process?

NICK GALES: Well, it's still incredibly important to have a very clear and publicly accessible comment on the review. And it is frustrating, I guess, from many people's point of view, including perhaps my own that, you know, there isn't a direct consequence within the way they're doing their work to our review, but it's very important to have it clearly stated and clearly evaluated.
I'm not sure that Dr. Gales is really looking forward to the results of the review coming out into the public arena at next year's IWC meeting in May, given the way the IWC in 1997 had no choice but to recognise that the IWC/SC review of the JARPA programme at it's halfway point noted that it's results had "the potential to improve management in some ways; and that the results of analyses of JARPA data could thus be used to increase catch limits of minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere without increasing the depletion risk indicated by the RMP-trials for these minke whales"

But that does not matter, because after all as IWC Head of Science Greg Donovan noted recently, "There is, of course, always the problem that politicians on all sides 'selectively' quote only the scientific advice that suits there predefined political position."

We'll see next May (or before, if someone leaks details of the review report) which politicians are most guilty of indulging in this behaviour.
MARK COLVIN: Dr Nick Gales from the Australian Antarctic Division speaking there with Karen Barlow.

That's it from the ABC.

Nick Gales also featured a couple of years back in the 2002 edition of the High North Alliance's "International Harpoon". Click here to read.

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