Japanese Whaling Redux: American Scientists Say Slaughter Was Unnecessary

By Andrew Moseman | September 3, 2008 1:17 pm

minkeLast week we covered the paper released by the Japanese Whale Research Program (JARPA) showing that minke whales in the Antarctic were getting thinner, and we also covered their research methods—taking measurements from more than 4,500 slaughtered whales. This week National Geographic has an update, interviewing two American researchers who say that killing the whales wasn’t necessary for the research.

Scott Baker, from Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, said researchers could have made the same finding by genetic testing, biopsy—removing a small piece of tissue for sampling—or simply through photographic evidence. And Stanford University’s Stephen Palumbi disagreed with the Japanese scientists over the importance of the finding, saying that whales getting a little skinnier might not matter that much, and the study’s findings weren’t statistically significant enough to be useful.

Since the 1986 moratorium on commercial whale hunting by the International Whaling Commission, Japan has continued to hunt some whales in the name of scientific research, so its scientists are under international pressure to show that the hunting has really produced important scientific research. But Baker called the killings not only unnecessary but also “crude,” especially because hunters used harpoons and rifles that often didn’t kill the whales instantly.

In 2005-06, Japan rolled out its new Antarctic research plan, JARPA II, which will run for six years. And while the Japanese researchers say they will use non-lethal methods whenever possible, the plan (pdf) calls for killing about 850 more minke whales in order to study fat levels, or when whales reach sexual maturity—both of which the researchers say they can’t measure in a non-lethal way.

The International Whaling Commission passed two different resolutions asking Japan not to go through with this, one in 2005 and another last year. Australia deployed its navy and air force to monitor whaling vessels, trying to keep them out of Australian waters. But under the current rules, it seems like nobody can stop Japan from whaling in the name of science if the country wants to keep doing it.

Image: flickr/wili_hybrid

  • Malcolm Green

    As I said in the previous post on this subject, if people such as Scott Baker wish to claim that the “same finding” could have been made via other methods – the most persuasive way in which he could prove that he is right, is to actually go out there and make such findings with those supposedly adequate non-lethal methods he says are sufficient. Instead his sits in his laboratory and responds to enquiries from the anti-whaling dominated western media.

    Hey, some people in the western world may fall for this but does he really think he’s going to convince the Japanese or Norwegians?

    Instead of cloaking opinions in such garbage rhetoric, why don’t the anti-whaling people just admit the fact that they don’t like whaling, irrespective of whether it’s primary aim is to obtain information that can contribute to the conservation and management of whale stocks, or whether it is more directly for obtaining food? Either way, the whales are killed with harpoons and get eaten, so why the childish focus on semantics?

    There’s nothing wrong with killing animals, and whales are not more special than cows pigs kangaroos or tuna.

  • Martin

    While MG’s comments do carry weight it is no different to what the Japanese, Norweigens and Icelandics do.

    It is a huge and complex subject which few “lay people” will give time to research and come to their own conclusions.

    While whales are no different to cows, pigs etc….the same could be said of humans. It is only some form of morality that cannibalism is not tolerated in a civilized world.

    But the Japanese particularly have twisted and turned on this issue. Especially with their vote shopping that is particularly repulsive as the results in those countries does not make for better managed fisheries locally, if anything it reinforces the it here now take it attitude.

  • Super Das G

    I’d go ahead and eat Malcolm, but I fear he’d leave a nasty taste in my mouth.

  • nana

    If they want to eat whale meat so bad why don’t they build a place to breed, raise & humanely butcher them? Then they wouldn’t be depleting the worlds population of whales!!!!!!!!!

  • Humanitarian

    Super Das G: I too would not want the taste of garbage in my mouth.
    But hey, to the idea of eating whale meat at all. It is a money making privilage not a necessity. We do not have an over abundance of whales in the world!!! And once they have all been slaughtered, what will the whaling scum find to make money off of next. If we allow this to continue without any thought about the future of these greedy industries and what they are doing to our planet and the beautiful living creatures on it we will be left with nothing but fat Japs and whatever other filth that eat these gorgeous animals. Money makes the world go round and it’s disgusting!!! This is not what God meant for when he created us and alowed us free will!!!

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  • Steve


    I’m happy to admit I don’t like whaling. I’m also happy to admit I don’t like you.

    I also admit I don’t like the comment ‘whale stocks’. Whales are very intelligent creatures, not sacks of potatoes. You may as well say we need to kill and experiment on lots of Japanese people because stocks of Japanese are at a high level.

    If you ever manage to realise that the world doesn’t revolve around the human species, or you personally, you may find you can develop some kind of moral compass. At the moment I think you are probably quite dangerous.

  • joyce halperin

    My opinion on the matter after watching the japanese murder another whale, is everyone should stop playing games with these whalers. They should be told to quit killing the whales. If they won’t, they should just be harpooned, shot and thrown in the ocean for whales to eat. I can’t believe how the whole world talks crap about the whales being killed and yet japan is still getting away with this. What is wrong with this picture? Doesn’t anybody see what’s happening to the ocean?

  • AbleBodySeaman

    Well joyce you obviously are clueless about Minke whales. They are filter feeders and something as large as a human body would clog their throat causing them to die. The reason is hasn’t been stopped is because it is LEGAL, and if the whole world was really so against it they would change the laws to make it illegal. But instead just last week they proposed to make it even more legal for Japan, Norway and Iceland to hunt whales. So maybe you need to check your assumption that most of the world is against whaling.

  • Woody Tanaka


    Legal or not (and what the japanese cockroaches are doing in the antarctic is not legal) I, for one, wouldn’t shead a tear if some good folks started killing those whale-killing pigs and all the politicians and bureaucrats giving them cover.

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