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Humpback whale underwater

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A second guest blog by Dr. Sidney Holt on the ICJ hearings

More about Scientific Whaling – 10 July 2013

The hearings today (10th July) at The Hague International Court of Justice, in the whaling case, in which Australia is challenging Japan, were fascinating but perhaps obscure to some viewers of the UN Web-stream.

They were mostly about how Japan had calculated the catch ‘needs’ for scientific whale carcasses in its its Antarctic research programme, JARPA II, that began in 2005. The Japanese Government had said this was decided on the basis of needs fo valid statistical analyses. Dr Lars Walloe, a scientist working for the Government of Norway but who is serving in this case as scientific witness on behalf of the Japanese Government, had told a previous session of the Court that he had looked at Japan’s calculations and they were ‘OK’. Then it turned out that he could not justify this claim, and when pressed admitted he had not been able to understand the reasons given for the choice of numbers..

In my first blog I wrote that no such statistical calculations could possibly have been made because no testable hypothesis had been put forward by the Japanese in their JARPA and JARPA II programmes. I asserted that calculations had in fact been made but these were logistical and economic ones: how many whales would be needed each year to make minke whaling in the Antarctic viable if not intrinsically profitable, and how to get the meat from back to Japan promptly

The big question in the hearing was: why did the number for the original short programme, called JARPA – which was about 400 minke whales each year – jump to a ‘need’ for double that – 850 in JARPA II, beginning in 2005? I wrote that an increase had been needed because the original cost of moving the factory ship and its catcher boats to and from the Antarctic, and the meat sales calculations had turned out to be wrong. An ageing factory ship needed major repairs, the IMO was imposing new rules on ships operating in the Southern Ocean, the price of fuel had risen, and meat sales had not be a good as expected. All this is true.

But, then, why exactly 400 jumping suddenly to 850?

I can now tell you that the reasons were entirely operational ones. The factory ship, Nisshin maru is fairly small as modern whaling factories go. As it happens it can process, freeze and transport the meat and a few other products from about 400 Antarctic minke whales.

During JARPA it had been realized that a bigger catch would be needed in future to cover rising costs and needs to attract bigger subsidies. There were hopes that the market could be expanded to take more meat and great efforts were made to ensure that. The solution to the logistic problem would be to arrange for another ship, with sufficient cold storage capacity, to go to the Antarctic in mid-season, for the meat already in the hold of Nisshin Maru to be transferred at sea to this ‘reefer’ and taken to Japan, while Nisshin Maru began whale processing operations again. This accounts for the doubling of Special Permit catches.

An additional advantage of such trans-shipment was that the chartered reefer – flying a flag of convenience, of course – properly fitted, could bring fuel oil to refuel the catcher boats in mid-season. Ports in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and Argentina were unlikely to be available for this purpose. (A bit of a problem arose when the IMO made a new rule that prohibited re-fueling of ships at sea in Antarctic waters. Nisshin Maru – and perhaps the catchers, too – would in future have to move north, out of the Antarctic for the refueling operation at sea.

An important point in Australia’s case: that JARPA II is not whaling for the primary purpose of scientific research, as envisaged in the whaling Convention of 1946. is that of time frame. Real research programmes have beginning dates and also ends. JARPA II is open ended. Intended ws to continue until the moratorium on commercial whaling is lifted, whenever that might be.

Throughout the hearing representatives of Japan have been trying to convince the Court that the moratorium, adopted in 1982 and coming into effect in 1986, was part of an evil plan by Australia to turn the IWC into an anti-whaling organisation. At the time Australia had only just become a non-whaling nation. It was one of a tiny group of Members of IWC which had adopted policies of opposition to commercial whaling. With that vigorous new policy it was not easy for Australia even to support, and certainly not give leadership to, the general movement for adoption of a moratorium for the ten years originally proposed by the UN. By then most nations desiring a moratorium – a clear majority of IWC Members – believed it should be open-ended, of indefinite duration (though subject to review after a specified time), for good practical reasons. They wanted to give time for whale populations to show at least the beginning of recovery from depletion. The scientists were not in a position to say how long that would be, but ten years seemed very short. The annual repeated moratorium proposals from 1978 on got wide and growing support because it was clearer than ever that scientific information was insufficient to support the operation of a Management Procedure for whaling adopted by the IWC in 1974, in the wake of the UN proposals. That failed Procedure offered an alternative to a moratorium. And it had been developed and proposed to the IWC by the Government of Australia, when it was still a whaling country with an aggressive pro-commercial-whaling policy.