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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



Judy Zeh on whale research and whaling management

Here's a few items from Judy Zeh, former chair of the IWC Scientific Committee.

From 1999:

For nearly two decades, UW Statistics Professor Judith Zeh has been studying whales, using statistical analysis to learn more about the size and dynamics of bowhead whale populations. Zeh's expertise recently led to her election as chair of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee.

The goal of the IWC, says Zeh, is to ensure that all stocks of whales are maintained at an appropriate level and not depleted. The Commission's Scientific Committee, made up of about 140 scientists named by 40 member governments, provides valuable information about scientific aspects of whaling.

A key piece of information about any whale population is its size. Other information might include the impact of environmental factors--environmental warming, whale watching--on whale populations, as well as identification of single interbreeding populations. Such information is significant as the Commission develops whaling policies.

As chair of the Scientific Committee, Zeh is the Commission's principal scientific advisor. She is the first woman to serve as chair in the IWC's 52-year history.

Why is a statistician like Zeh intrigued by whale research? It offers interesting challenges, she says. "Since we must study whales out in the ocean, there are intriguing statistical problems in answering scientific questions," she explains. "For example, in counting whales, how do we account for the ones we are not able to see or hear? Or when identifying whales in photos by their markings, how do we account for the ones without markings? It's the role of the statistician to account for the whales that cannot be identified from obvious data."

Zeh will serve a three-year term as chair of the IWC Scientific Committee.

Then from 2000:
... Matt Coleman asked the chair of that committee, Judy Zeh about the state of the world's whale populations.

JUDY ZEH: Most of the whale, different whale stocks and species in the world, I think, are doing fairly well right now. There are some particular populations that are of very great concern. One of those is the western North Atlantic right whales which live mostly just off the east coast of the United States, and that's a very small population which seems to be having some problems now with lower reproductive and survival rates. So the US Government is working very hard on it, but it is a big problem.

MATT COLEMAN: Environmental groups have been saying that the numbers have been decreasing very rapidly. In fact, there are probably only a few hundred northern right whales left in the world. Is that correct?

JUDY ZEH: Basically the biggest problem is that that was the population that was very badly decimated by the early commercial whaling, and it just hasn't really recovered, so it doesn't seem to be increasing as much as we would like it to. And the last few years there have been some particular problems, that we don't know whether they're related to environmental things or whether there is a bigger problem with the population status.

MATT COLEMAN: What about whale populations in the southern hemisphere? How are they doing?

JUDY ZEH: There is a lot of evidence that humpbacks are increasing very nicely in much of the southern hemisphere, so that's good news. There's less information about some of the other species like blue whales and fin whales, so we can't really say a lot about what they're doing yet. But again, if we keep doing these surveys, we'll gradually get more information about how they're doing.

MATT COLEMAN: One of the best known species of whale is the minke whale. Japan claims that the minke whale is now so abundant that commercial harvesting of that species would be sustainable. Do you agree?

JUDY ZEH: We're in the process of completing the third circumpolar survey, and looking at minke whale estimates for the southern oceans, and as far as I know at present, it's certainly true that if commercial whaling were resumed under the revised management procedure, it could be managed safely.

MATT COLEMAN: How valuable are these scientific research programs that Japan carries out in telling scientists like yourself something useful about whale populations?

JUDY ZEH: Well, they certainly do provide a lot of data. They've been doing a lot of genetic analyses which tells us about stock structure, whether whales in a particular area mix with whales from another area or whether they don't. And this is something that's very important to know for management purposes. So they certainly provide good information on things like that.

MATT COLEMAN: Would you be able to get that information any other way, through a more humane or even a non-lethal research method?

JUDY ZEH: Well, many scientists are using biopsy sampling, and that works very well for humpback whales. It's been a little less successful for minke whales, and I'm not sure that's because it hasn't been tried sufficiently and the best techniques haven't been worked out, or whether - I suspect that maybe that it's somewhat more difficult to biopsy minke whales than humpback whales.

COMPERE: Judy Zeh is the chair of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission which began its annual conference in Adelaide today. Matt Coleman there for us.
Zeh was apparently the convenor steering group for the recent JARPA review.
Finally, this from 2005:


Judith E. Zeh, UW Department of Statistics

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, signed by 14 whaling nations, “to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry”. Part of the Convention is a Schedule that contains the actual regulations regarding species and numbers of great whales that can be caught, times and places in which whaling is allowed, etc. Amendments to the Schedule, which require a 3/4 majority vote for adoption, must be “based on scientific findings”. Thus, since its inception, the intent of the IWC has been to base management on science, and one of its standing committees has been the Scientific Committee (SC). The SC meets annually, just before the Commission meets, and the Chair of the SC presents SC findings to the Commission. I will talk about successes and failures of this management process before, during, and since my 1999-2002 term as SC Chair. Successes have come when the Commission obtained and followed good scientific advice. Failures have sometimes occurred because of inadequate scientific advice, but more often because economics or politics got in the way of following good advice. Both successes and failures occurred in the 1960s, when a committee of three scientists appointed by the Commission recommended immediate protection of Antarctic humpback and blue whales from whaling and drastic reductions in fin whale catches. The Commission did protect humpback and blue whales, but delayed reductions in fin whale catches because of pressure from whaling nations. Eventually greater reductions in fin whale catches had to be made to allow the stock to recover. The management procedure developed by the SC during the 1970s proved unworkable because it required classifying whale stocks on the basis of quantities that were difficult to estimate. Meanwhile, some whaling nations stopped whaling and other nations joined the IWC. It now has 66 members, the majority of which are non-whaling nations and many of which could be characterized as anti-whaling nations. This adds a complicating dimension to the “science and policy interface”. During the 1980s, the Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling that is still in effect. However, the Convention allows whaling in spite of the moratorium by nations that objected to its adoption and by any nation under Special Permits for scientific research. Meanwhile, the SC has developed a revised management procedure (RMP) that requires only regular estimates of abundance of a stock and the known catch history. The RMP was tested by simulations of 100 years of catches using it. These simulations took into account uncertainties in a wide range of factors. In my view, whales and whalers would be better protected by use of the RMP to manage whaling than by the moratorium. The SC currently provides advice on aboriginal subsistence catch limits for bowhead whales using a similar management procedure.

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