Are they taking them to the whale weigh stations?
December 31, 2006 12:47 AM   Subscribe

Whalefilter: What are the Japanese whaling fleet researching?

The fleet has just left for the southern ocean and they are taking 945 whales, they say for scientific research. I know that commercial whaling is now illegal, and have heard the claims by environmental groups that the scientific part is just a front to get through the loophole. I am interested in hearing the whalers point of view, what are they researching, what have they found out in past years, and what are their goals? Anything I have found by them so far is just saying how evil Greenpeace and seashepherd are.

Links to peer reviewed published research appreciated.
posted by scodger to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I saw a documentary a few months back, where a bunch of scientists were given all the peer-reviewed literature (there were boxes of it, actually) produced from the Japanese experimental whaling. They read them all, and found two papers that required whales to be killed in order to produce the findings in them. All the other research could have been carried out without harming whales.

As for the nature of the research? I think a major component is population demographics - ie. learning how the populations are structured, how many new whales are being born, mainly so they can then take that research back to the IWC and claim that whaling is sustainable.
posted by Jimbob at 1:28 AM on December 31, 2006

Best answer: I saw that docco too and have a somewhat hazy memory of it. IIRC there were boxes and boxes of papers but only a few were peer reviewed. As you say, only a couple of those required actual whale kills.

This was as close as I could find to the story.
posted by polyglot at 1:55 AM on December 31, 2006

According to the Japan Whaling Association, the research is conducted by the Institute of Cetacean Research. They have a page on their research programs.
posted by gubo at 10:09 AM on December 31, 2006

I got my earlier (potentially inflammatory) comment deleted, but I have wondered the same thing for years. Aren't these populations already reasonably well understood and enumerated? And even if population dynamics weren't the issue, wouldn't a few dozen whales be sufficient for any anatomical or other such studies? Why an annual hunt?

Japan for years has had surplus whale meat on the market as a result of this 'research' project, and Greenpeace reported a campaign to encourage its consumption in 2005.

That can be taken either way.... as evidence that there is no commercial interest in their 'research', or as evidence that there is some sort of government subterfuge afoot to stimulate a market where none exists. The dearth of peer reviewed research supports the latter hypothesis.

Personally, I sense the chauvinsitic justifications reminiscent of the destruction of the north Atlantic cod populations, hidden behind a rubric of "research".
posted by FauxScot at 10:25 AM on December 31, 2006

Best answer: This has always made me wonder as well, so I looked on Web of Science. These two papers (the first two remotely relevant, Japanese authored papers on antarctic populations) appear to use tissue samples impossible to obtain without the death of the whale:

Here is one, which implies "uncontrolled management" of whale populations is a bad thing for whales (no shit):

Title: Comparison of mercury accumulation in antarctic minke whale collected in 1980-82 and 1984-86
Author(s): Watanabe I, Yamamoto Y, Honda K, Fujise Y, Kato H, Tanabe S, Tatsukawa R
Source: NIPPON SUISAN GAKKAISHI 64 (1): 105-109 JAN 1998
Document Type: Article
Language: Japanese
Cited References: 33 Times Cited: 2 Find Related Records Information
Abstract: Mercury concentrations were determined in the liver of Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) collected during 1980-82 and 1984-86, and compared in view of age-dependent accumulation. No significant sexual and geographical variations were observed, while higher mercury concentrations were found in the Liver of Antarctic minke whales caught in the 1984-86 season rather than in 1980-82 by commercial whaling. Mercury concentration elevated with age until maturity and then revealed a steady state or slightly declined. However, the age showing maximum level of mercury was found to be older in 1984-86 than in 1980-82. This observation might be attributable to temporal changes in feeding amounts, resulting from disturbance of the Antarctic ecosystem such as uncontrolled management of whale resources in the past.

For the next one, I checked the 10 papers that cite it and they are respectable, serious papers on a variety of mainstream biological topics, especially conservation biology. So, at least some of the research appears to be real, and of real value. Enough value to kill whales? I don't know. Any other ways to gather the samples? I don't know that either, but the paper appears to be answering the question: are skin samples (probably obtainable by darts) comparable to liver samples (not obtainable by darts!) and the answer is "yes." - so this research is not necessarily self-serving/self-perpetuating either.

Title: Using trace elements in skin to discriminate the populations of minke whales in southern hemisphere
Author(s): Kunito T, Watanabe I, Yasunaga G, Fujise Y, Tanabe S
Source: MARINE ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH 53 (2): 175-197 MAR 2002
Document Type: Article
Language: English
Cited References: 82 Times Cited: 10 Find Related Records Information
Abstract: Concentrations of 12 trace elements (V, Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, Se, Rb, Sr, Cd, Cs, Ba, and Hg) were determined in liver and skin tissues of minke whales from various regions within the Antarctic Ocean. Cd concentrations in livers of southern minke whale were apparently higher than those in cetaceans from other regions, while Hg concentrations were lower. There were significant positive correlations between body length and concentrations of Cd and Hg in the liver. The concentrations of all trace elements in the skin were lower than those in other cetaceans reported previously. Significant positive correlations between liver and skin were found for Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, Rb, Cd, and Cs, implying that the concentrations of these trace elements in the skin reflect those of internal organs. Large interannual variation of the accumulation pattern of trace elements in the skin was observed for the southern minke whales from Area V. There were significant differences in the skin element concentrations among Areas III, IV, and V, especially for males. Also, discriminant analysis between geographically two different groups collected during 1995/1996 austral summer season, based on the concentrations of trace elements in the skin, allowed for a correct classification of 90% of these minke whales. These results suggest that measurement of trace elements in skin samples could provide valuable information on the status of contamination and possible geographic differences in the accumulation levels in southern minke whales. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
posted by Rumple at 11:10 AM on December 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

They are carefully and methodically researching the theory that whales are delicious. It is largely a loophole thing, but it has continued to surprise me how they can say it with a straight face.
posted by tomble at 11:20 PM on December 31, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the help. It seems I was right, it is pretty disappointing to see Japan dress up its whaling like that.
posted by scodger at 12:06 AM on January 2, 2007

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