My Sea Shepherd


 

How many more whales will Iceland need to kill to discover what we already know they eat?

August 25, 2003

HOW MANY MORE WHALES WILL ICELAND NEED TO KILL TO DISCOVER WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW THEY EAT?


CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON RESPONDS TO ICELAND'S FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS PROPAGANDA

The following questions and answers are being sent out by the Icelandic government in their attempt to justify their illegal whaling operations currently going on in the North Atlantic. All questions were presented by the Icelandic government agency defending the illegal slaughter of whales.

Icelandic Question: Why is studying whales important for Iceland?

Iceland's Answer: Iceland's economy is overwhelmingly dependent on fisheries. Fisheries products constitute around 2/3 of the value of Iceland's exports of goods. The sustainability of fisheries is therefore essential for the long-term prosperity of Iceland. The importance of multi-species interactions for rational management of fisheries is widely recognized within various international forum (including e.g. FAO, ICES, NAFO and NAMMCO) and Iceland has already started implementing this approach in fisheries management. For this reason it is important for us to study the whole marine ecosystem and understand to the extent possible the ecosystem's different elements and interactions. Whales are a large component of the marine ecosystem and it is impossible to leave them out of the picture in studying it. Studying whales is necessary to ensure sustainable fisheries and sustainable use of living marine resources in general. Leaving whales out of the equation simply leads to a false conclusion.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: Iceland has grossly mismanaged fisheries and the utilization of draggers and other heavy gear technologies has contributed greatly to the decline in most population of fish species. No one is suggesting that whales be left out of any study of marine eco-systems in Icelandic waters or anywhere else. Iceland is implying here that those who disagree with Icelandic whaling are dismissing scientific studies of the marine eco-system. We are not. What we are dismissing is the need to kill whales as part of this study. What is to be gained from killing whales to find what we all ready know they eat?

Icelandic Question: Will Iceland catch whales this year?

Icelandic Answer: Earlier this year, Iceland put a research plan forward for discussion within the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee. The plan included the taking of 50 Sei whales, 100 Fin whales and 100 Minke whales annually for two years. Although all the elements in the plan are scientifically valid and the proposed takes would not threaten the whale stocks in any way, it has now been decided to limit the catches for the year 2003 to 38 Minke whales. No Sei whales or fin whales will be taken at this time.

Iceland has been considering the option of conducting lethal research on whales, in addition to continuing its non-lethal research. Research on Minke whales has been considered most pressing and it has therefore been decided to place the emphasis on studying them. Iceland is still interested in the study of Sei and Fin whales, but it has been decided not to start lethal research on these abundant whale stocks in 2003. Furthermore, the initial take of Minke whales will be lower than that which was originally planned for the first year of the scientific plan.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: The International Whaling Commission rejected any whaling by Iceland including the taking of Minke whales. The above Icelandic answer is framed to imply that the 38 Minke whales presently being targeted were approved by the IWC. There was no such approval. This Icelandic approved quota of Minke whales is not legal. The reason the Minke whales are being targeted is to test the international waters. Iceland knows that targeting Sei and Fin whales will provoke international outrage and they are hoping that targeting Minke will be more acceptable, and once they have their foot in the door, they can escalate. The initial plan to take 100 Fin whales, 100 Minke Whales and 50 Sei whales sounds more like a Japanese whaling "shopping" list than a research plan.

Icelandic Question: Didn't the IWC's Scientific Committee oppose Iceland's plan?

Icelandic Answer: No. While there were different opinions on most issues within the Scientific Committee, the Committee did agree that the proposed catch of Minke whales is unlikely to have a significant impact on the Central North Atlantic stock of common Minke whales. In other words, while opinion was split on many issues the Scientific Committee agreed that the proposed catch is sustainable. Iceland's scientific plan was not submitted for acceptance or rejection, but for discussion. The Scientific Committee as a body therefore neither supported the plan nor opposed it. There continues to be great support for Iceland's plan within the IWC's Scientific Committee.

Although there is rarely a consensus on major issues among the scientists within the Scientific Committee, Iceland feels that it is an important forum for an open and transparent scientific debate on the approach it is considering regarding research on whales and their role in the marine ecosystem.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: Yes. The IWC did oppose any whaling by Iceland. The Icelanders are trying to spin the issue of their catch having "no significant impact" on Central North Atlantic populations of Minke whales into IWC approval of their kill. The IWC may have agreed that such a catch was "sustainable", but this cannot be translated into IWC approval for the slaughter. I am not aware of any great base of support for Icelandic whaling within the IWC's Scientific Committee. This is yet another spin. In fact, it is my understanding that most members of the IWC Scientific Committee disapprove of allowing Iceland to return to whaling. There is also no real support for lethal research.

Icelandic Question: Isn't the proposed whaling illegal because of the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling?

Icelandic Answer: No. For those countries that are bound by the moratorium, commercial whaling is not permitted. However, any member of the IWC has the undisputed right to conduct whaling for the purposes of scientific research. Iceland's whaling is therefore undisputedly legal.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: Icelandic whaling is illegal, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not alone in this opinion. Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the US State Department, said it is within the power of the US President to ban the importation of goods from any country deemed to be in breach of an international conservation agreement. The taking of whales by Iceland will trigger a review by the [US] Department of Commerce of Iceland's lethal scientific whaling process program for possible certification under the Pelly Amendment. If there is no breach of international law, why would the United States be considering retaliatory measures against Iceland?

Icelandic Question: Was the purpose of the reservation Iceland made upon joining the IWC to enable Iceland to resume whaling immediately?

Icelandic Answer: No. Iceland's reservation relates only to commercial whaling but not to whaling for scientific purposes. No decision on possible future commercial whaling has been taken. Had Iceland re-joined the IWC without a reservation, this would have made no difference as regards the possibility of conducting whaling for scientific purposes. Without a reservation, Iceland would have exactly the same possibility as it does now to conduct such whaling.

Although there was initially a disagreement among IWC members on the issue of Iceland's reservation, since October 2002 Iceland has been generally accepted as a member of the IWC with a reservation regarding the moratorium on commercial whaling. As a part of the reservation, Iceland is committed not to authorize commercial whaling before 2006, and thereafter such whaling will not be authorized while progress is being made in negotiating the IWC's Revised Management Scheme (RMS).

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: Iceland was readmitted to the IWC only by one vote and that was a vote mistakenly cast by Sweden. Sweden acknowledged immediately that they had voted by mistake in Iceland's favor. Unfortunately the mistake was not retractable. For many years, Iceland was not allowed to participate in IWC meetings because of their displayed contempt for international conservation law.

Icelandic Question: Will Iceland's decision to put forward a research plan that includes catching whales not delay the process of negotiating a Revised Management Scheme (RMS) within the IWC?

Icelandic Answer: It should not. Iceland continues to place emphasis on finalizing the RMS as soon as possible. The RMS, when completed, will enable the IWC to fulfill its role as an international body for the regulation of whaling. Its completion therefore remains a priority task for the IWC and its members. The research plan and the RMS negotiations are separate issues that should not be mixed.

Within the IWC, there are ongoing discussions on how commercial whaling should be managed. Agreement has already been reached on how catch quotas should be calculated, based on scientific results, to ensure that whaling is sustainable. The current negotiations revolve around how it should be ensured that those catch quotas are not exceeded by creating a management framework for the IWC called the Revised Management Scheme (RMS). The RMS negotiations have taken a long time, more than a decade in fact, but recently there has been a real progress in the discussions and Iceland hopes the negotiations will be concluded before too long. Various aspects of the 2003 Annual Meeting of the IWC hurt the prospects of making progress on the RMS. A number of countries indicated that they did not consider the IWC's role being the regulation of whaling (which is its role according to the IWC Convention) but the blanket protection of all whale stocks regardless of their abundance. While this type of thinking renders the RMS unnecessary, Iceland remains hopeful that the RMS negotiations can be put back on track. When the RMS will be concluded the IWC will have in place schemes both for calculating sustainable catch quotas and for ensuring that those quotas will not be exceeded.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is 100% opposed to the Revised Management Scheme (RMS). It is our position that no whales should be killed by any nation for any reason, anywhere in the world. This relentless slaughter has driven species to extinction and to the brink of extinction, and has greatly diminished the world's population of whales.

Icelandic Question: Will the whale products obtained in scientific whaling be sold?

Icelandic Answer: According to international law, whales taken in scientific whaling must be processed and utilized. The same article of the IWC Convention that allows Iceland to take whales for scientific purposes obliges Iceland not to waste the products but to utilize them.

Members of the IWC are obliged to process the leftover parts from research as far as practicable and sell them as food and for other purposes, according to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). Whale research programs are implemented according to meticulous and costly plans. Proceeds from by-product sales are used to fund research although these will only cover a small part of the costs associated with the research. Also, it would be a waste of valuable resources not to utilize the whales as much as possible.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: How convenient. Of course all "leftover parts" are the meat and the blubber. Iceland would have us believe that the "by-product" is a small part of the research. In truth it represents about 95% plus of the animal's body. The bottom line is that without a commercial sale of the whale meat, there would be no so called "scientific" whaling. According to U.S. State Department's Richard Boucher: "We've (USA) said many times that lethal research on whales is not necessary and the needed scientific data can be obtained by well-established, non-lethal means."

Icelandic Question: Will Iceland engage in international trade in whale products obtained in scientific whaling?

Icelandic Answer: Iceland has no plans to export the whale products obtained in the scientific whaling of 2003. However, there are opportunities available for the export of whale products in the future and this must be seen in light of Iceland's obligation under international law to utilize the whales taken for scientific purposes. However, it must be stressed that any future international trade in Icelandic whale products would be conducted in accordance with Iceland's obligations under international law.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: Iceland has been in negotiations with Japan and Norway over the issue of whale meat exports for years. Commercial exploitation is the only research that Iceland is interested in.

Icelandic Question: Should the whale products not be consumed domestically rather than be subject to international trade?

Icelandic Answer: If a whale is consumed, it makes no difference whether or not it has been transported across an international border first. The product remains the same regardless of whether its destination is domestic or overseas. Iceland does not support the view that international trade is fundamentally bad, neither regarding whale products nor other traded products. Nor does Iceland support trade discrimination between large and small countries.

The issue of whether or not whale products should be subject to international trade is certainly not an issue connected with the management of whaling or with whale conservation or protection. What matters in this respect is how many whales are taken, not where they are consumed after they are taken. The sustainability of the catches is determined by the level of the catches and present population sizes. This has nothing whatsoever to do with what distance the products are transported before they are used. However, there are two reasons for opposing international trade in sustainably taken whale products. Firstly, one can feel that only large countries should be allowed to conduct whaling while countries that have small domestic markets should not. This discriminatory reasoning can for example conclude that large countries such as the USA and Japan can conduct large-scale whaling but small countries like Iceland and the Faeroe Islands cannot. Secondly, one can feel that international trade in general is a bad thing and should be minimized. This anti-capitalist reasoning not only applies to international trade in whale products but to all international trade, such as trade in other food products, textiles and industrial products. Iceland strongly opposes both these arguments. Iceland feels it is important to ensure the sustainability of the utilization of living marine resources, but this goal should not be used to justify inappropriate trade barriers.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: It does make a difference according to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). There are laws that govern the trade of wildlife species and current CITES regulations prohibit the international trade in whale meat. Trade embargos under international agreement based on conservation cannot be dismissed as trade discrimination. And of course the trade in whale meat is connected to the management of whale populations. Demand in one country will escalate killing in another country. Should Iceland be allowed to diminish whale populations in the North Atlantic for the purpose of Japanese consumption?

What Iceland is doing here is making a case for international trade in whale meat. I thought this was about so called "scientific whaling".

I especially like how Iceland puts the anti-capitalist spin on their argument. Iceland misses the point completely. This is not about trade, it is about conservation. Iceland says there are 40,000 Minke whales in the North Atlantic and this constitutes an "abundance" and even an "over-population". Forget for a moment that 40,000 is a small fraction of what pre-whaling whale populations are estimated, and think about the number. 40,000 spread across the vastness of the North Atlantic. A town of 40,000 humans is considered relatively small and Iceland has many communities that large. If 40,000 Icelanders were scattered across the entire North Atlantic, they would be hard to find. Minke whale populations are not abundant and they should be left alone.

Icelandic Question: If whale products from scientific whaling are to be sold, does that not mean that the driving force is selling whale meat, rather than gaining scientific information?

Icelandic Answer: No. There is a real scientific need for this research. As explained above, utilizing the by-products of scientific whaling is not only a way to avoid unnecessary waste but also an obligation under international law. The revenues obtained from these sales will be used to cover some of the costs of conducting the scientific research. It is however clear that the sales of the products will not cover the cost of the planned whale research of 2003. Rather than being a moneymaking exercise, the research will be costly. The government of Iceland will provide funds for the research in view of its importance for maintaining Iceland's long-term policy of sustainable use of living marine resources.

Answer by Paul Watson: Japanese so called "scientific research" yields in excess of $70 Million US each year. Would Iceland be conducting "scientific whaling" if the meat was not sold? No, they have admitted they would not. Money is the driving force behind this slaughter, money and nothing else.

Icelandic Question: Isn't the research plan simply a cover for commercial whaling?

Icelandic Answer: No. The operation of scientific whaling and commercial whaling are very different. In commercial whaling the practice is to catch the allowed number of whales in the most cost-effective way. In scientific whaling, the practice is to catch the whales in a way that will result in a scientifically valid sample. Scientific whaling is therefore not a cost-effective operation and not a commercially viable exercise. As already mentioned, the operation in 2003 will cost substantially more than the sales of the products will yield.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: A whale is a very valuable commodity in Japan. Iceland has smuggled whale meat to Japan in the past, and will most likely smuggle whale meat to Japan again. One Minke whale could easily fetch $200,000US on the Japanese market, so 38 Minke whales represents a value of $7.6 million US. Perhaps Iceland could make its costs available to the public and then reveal the income from whale meat sales. If sold domestically, one whale could easily yield 20,000 kilos of meat, and if sold for only a conservative cost of $2US per kilo, each whale would bring in $40,000US, and 38 whales would yield more than $1.5 million US. Money will be made, if not they would not be doing it.

Icelandic Question: Isn't it possible to obtain the scientific information needed for the management of whales without using lethal methods?

Icelandic Answer: For some whale research purposes, there is no need for lethal methods. For other whale research purposes, lethal methods are necessary.

Whale research can involve both lethal and non-lethal methods. Iceland has been active in non-lethal research for many years and continues to make use of such methods when considered feasible for the objectives of the research. For example, a series of large scale sighting surveys has resulted in important scientific knowledge on the abundance of different whale stocks around Iceland and studies using photo-identification techniques and satellite telemetry have yielded useful information of stock structure of certain species. However, there are some questions that cannot be sufficiently addressed without taking whales, including most of the questions posed by the Icelandic research program.

This includes the issue of the role of whales in the marine ecosystem and their interaction with the other components of that ecosystem. To quantify the food composition of whales as an input to multi-species models, it is necessary to examine their stomachs. Recently suggested non-lethal methods for this purpose, such as fatty acid analysis, stable isotope ratios and fecal analysis, may give some insight into the feeding ecology of whales, but on their own, their resolution is insufficient to use as an input for multi-species models, at least for the time being. Additional parameters needed for estimating food consumption, such as estimation of seasonal fattening and metabolic rates also rely on dissection of animals.

Furthermore, to study whale stock composition by age and reproductive status we need to sample earplugs and eye lenses for age determination and reproductive organs to determine reproductive status and vital rates. Both of these are impossible to obtain by non-lethal means. While there are some indications that pregnancy status of individual whales may be determined from analysis of biopsy samples, such methods are not, for all practical purposes, suitable for determination of reproductive rates and temporal trends. For many of the other analyses (diet, pollutants, genetics etc), access to supplementary information from caught animals, such as age and reproductive status, is essential.

Although it is possible to measure pollutant concentrations in skin biopsy samples from whales, such data is of limited value without further information on the individual. Dissection of carcasses and examination of various organs is necessary to evaluate possible harmful effects of pollutants, as well as to assess the general health status of the whales.

While it is true that it is possible to scientifically study some aspects of whale biology without taking them, it is necessary to take whales in order to address a number of important issues regarding whales and their role in the marine ecosystem.

Most of the above mentioned non-lethal methods have not been validated sufficiently against the more traditional methods based on dissection of whale carcasses. An important part of the Icelandic research proposal is to conduct such a validation by comparing the results obtained by different methods on the same individuals.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: Iceland is grasping to justify "scientific whaling". Next year they will need to kill more whales to verify the data their accountants, oopps sorry, I mean their "biostitutes" need to justify this shameful slaughter. Whales that have died from natural causes or that have been entangled in nets should be more than sufficient to provide subjects for dissection. Of course, the easiest way to demonstrate that this scientific need is bogus is to not allow any sales of the meat commercially. If it was given away and there was no money to be made, the need for research would disappear over night.

Icelandic Question: Is lethal research on animals widely practiced?

Icelandic Answer: Lethal research on animals is conducted in every country around the world. In concluding whether such research is justified for wild animals, one must look at factors such as the abundance of the relevant population, the scientific need for the research and the humaneness of the taking. These criteria are met in many research programs around the world, including this plan for the taking of Minke whales for scientific purposes. Even in the study of farm animals that can be supervised and observed to a much greater degree than wild animals, let alone wild marine animals, lethal research methods are used to study many elements. The reason is that the suggested non-lethal alternatives, such as analyzing feces, are not sufficient for getting reliable scientific conclusions. One of the research plan's objectives is to assess the applicability of non-lethal methods.

Captain Paul Watson: There is no humane way to kill a whale. These are highly sensitive, intelligent beings and there is no justification for torturing and slaughtering whales in the 21st Century.

Icelandic Question: Although there is a need to take whales, does Iceland's research plan not suggest taking more than is necessary?

Icelandic Answer: For the scientific results to be statistically relevant there is a need for a certain sample size. The necessary sample size depends inter alia on each particular research objective. For studies of descriptive nature, like diet composition of Minke whales in Icelandic waters, it is very difficult to determine statistically a priori the required sample size as no previous studies have been conducted in this area as this depends largely on spatial and temporal variability in feeding habits. The research proposal is for a so-called feasibility - or pilot study, intended to serve as a basis for future research. The nature of these future studies, including the extent to which lethal and non-lethal methods will be applied, will depend on the outcome of these feasibility studies. Iceland's plan does not suggest taking more whales than is needed for making sure the results are scientifically significant. In fact, in 2003 the take will be less than was envisaged for the first year of research in the original scientific plan, partially due to a later start of the program.

Answer by Captain Paul Watson: By this rationale, there is a need to take Blue whales and Humpbacks. Iceland is a nation that hunted the Giant Auk to complete extinction. Iceland has a history of fishery mismanagement. If Iceland is allowed to take whales, the kill quotas will rise each year, just as the killing numbers have risen for the so called "scientific" whaling by Japan and the illegal commercial whaling by Norway.

Captain Paul Watson
Founder and President
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
www.seashepherd.org
paul@seashepherd.org
National Director - Sierra Club
paulwatson@earthlink.net


 

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