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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



Phil Clapham on whaling and lethal research methods

Several anti-whaling people have mentioned to me an article entitled "The whaling issue: Conservation, confusion, and casuistry", by Phil Clapham and others, which appears to have been published in response to Joji Morishita's "Multiple analysis of the whaling issue: Understanding the dispute by a matrix". Both articles have apparently been published in "Marine Policy".

I've not read either, although Clapham posted the abstract of his to a mailing list (here).

While I'm no scientist, everyone is entitled to their own political opinion, and in that regard I feel qualified to comment on the abstract of Clapham's paper. To my mind, Clapham does himself a big disservice with his constant indulging in the political side of the whaling debate. In 2005, he and four other scientists even went so far as to break the IWC Scientific Committee's document confidentiality rules, in publishing a criticism of the JARPA II research proposal in "Nature", prior to the commencement of the IWC plenary.

Anyway, from the abstract of his new paper:
For many people in this debate, the issue is not that some whales are not abundant, but that the whaling industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself or to honestly assess the status of potentially exploitable populations.
This certainly appears to be Clapham's personal position on the question of commercial whaling. I disagree. I believe that it is not the responsibility of the whaling industry to regulate itself, but the governments of the world to properly and effectively regulate their industry. This goes for every industry, not just whaling (Clapham would also do well to avoid focusing on Japan as they clearly aren't the only nation interested in whaling).

With regard to assessment of potentially exploitable populations, I agree that it is not appropriate for levels of acceptable exploitation to be determined based on stock assessments undertaken solely by whalers. The best forum for this is the IWC's Scientific Committee (notes on their peer review processes can be found here).

Clapham goes on to talk of "Japan's ... often implausible stock assessments". The fact is that no IWC management actions will ever be taken based on the ICR's data alone without review and acceptance at the IWC/SC. Furthermore, the IWC/SC has actually seen fit to use Japan's data previously, for example in determining the abundance estimate for the common minke whale in the western north pacific (as I informed an EIA campaigner recently). Of course, Japan could quit the IWC, and resume commercial whaling basing management decisions solely on the advice of the ICR's scientists, but such a situation can be avoided if the politicians at the IWC agree to act in good faith, and in accordance with the object and purpose of the ICRW to which their nations have adhered.

Clapham also characterises Japanese policy of supporting "culling" of whales. The idea is not to "cull" whales (like they do with kangaroos in Australia and Kaimanawa horses in New Zealand), but "harvest" them. The whole point of sustainable whaling is to put food on plates, and whales, like fish, are considered edible in Japan, even if they aren't where Clapham comes from. Trying to associate whaling with the negative connotations of a "cull" is misleading at best.

He also complains about regulation and "true transparency in catch and market monitoring", which as far as I know Clapham is no expert in at all. Traffic East Asia - Japan made recommendations to the Japanese Government in the late 1990's, and they responded by putting new regulations in place in 2001. Since then, allegations of illegal whale meat on the market are still lodged (often prior to IWC meetings with much media fanfare), yet when these reports are reviewed at the IWC Scientific Committee it becomes apparent that inadequate references samples were used in drawing the conclusions (will dig out a reference for this later). If the scientists producing these papers were truly interested in improving any alleged weaknesses in the system, they would conduct their surveys in co-operation with the appropriate authorities so that they could verify their samples against the DNA database of legally acquired whale meat. The approach of these scientists attempting to embarrass the Government of Japan politically is not constructive. That they choose such methods appears to provide a good indication of their true motivations.

Finally Clapham introduces his view that Japan believes it has a "right to secure unlimited access to global marine resources". To assert that Japan wants "unlimited" access is frankly ridiculous and requires no response. Furthermore, Japan's desire to utilise living marine resources from the oceans is consistent with international agreements governing access to those resources.

Clapham's abstract concludes:
Whaling is inextricably tied to the international fisheries agreements on which Japan is strongly dependent; thus, concessions made at the IWC would have potentially serious ramifications in other fora.
Given that Clapham is working on his silly premise that Japan wants "unlimited access to global marine resources", I personally think he's well off the mark, and maybe he himself has read a tad too much extreme anti-whaling propaganda. Clapham would do well to skip his politics and stick to his science.

Just my personal view though, he can do what he likes with his time and his reputation amongst his peers.

Usefully, in another older article Clapham conceded that:
The point is not that lethal sampling cannot contribute anything to knowledge of whale populations, or even that there are no data which cannot be obtained by other means; one can always find scientific value in carcasses. Rather this issue is that lethal methods are not required to obtain information needed for population assessment.
The first sentence of this statement should come in handy the next time someone raises a question about whether the ICR is really conducting research. As for the second sentence, Clapham's view appears to be at odds with standard practice within the IWC Scientific Committee. For example, from the report of the Workshop for Western North Pacific Bryde's whale Implementation:
The Workshop considered information from several approaches, both genetic and non-genetic, as a number of studies (e.g. Donovan, 1991) have concluded that this is the most effective way to address questions of stock identity.
Clapham, on the other hand, asserts that
population structure is most reliably studied with genetic analysis, which is routinely conducted using tissue from skin biopsies (Palsboll et al. 1997); lethal sampling is not required for this work.
Towards the end of the article, Clapham comments on a suggestion that scientists should "take extraordinary care to acknowledge differences of opinion on science", responding that:
It is worth asking just how bad science has to be before its quality ceases to be a matter of opinion, by any reasonable standard of independent judgement.
Given the fact that his views on the assessing stock structure appear to be somewhat in conflict with the practice employed by the IWC Scientific Committee, I'd suggest that perhaps his own judgement wouldn't meet the criteria for such a standard.

In summary, the thing to remember in all of this is that ultimately the policy of pro-sustainable use nations is to make for the resumption of commercial whaling, allowing for profits to be made from the sale of whale meat. With these future plans in mind, nitpicking arguments about the merits lethal methods versus non-lethal methods for research are all pointless in the first place (as I've noted previously). Besides being used for research purposes, the whales are eventually eaten anyway, just as they would be in a purely commercial hunt. That some people wish to endlessly engage in such arguments ignoring this reality tells us much about their political agenda.

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