Whaling Nations Blame Whales for Fish Declines

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A spokesperson for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), based in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, said the tactic employed by Japan and Norway is a ploy to get around the international moratorium on whaling.

Winners and Losers

It is true that some whale populations—such as humpbacks in the Southern Hemisphere, fin whales in the Northern Hemisphere, and minke whales in the North Atlantic and North Pacific—seem to be recovering since the implementation of a moratorium on wide-scale commercial whaling, Corkeron said.

But there are still question marks over the future of populations of other species, including blue whales and bowhead whales, both hunted to the verge of extinction.

"The bottom line is that we are exploiting the oceans' resources more and more," Corkeron told National Geographic News. "It's almost a no-brainer that eventually someone will point the finger at other species that are using the same resources."

Regarding whales as pests, rather than natural resources, could have important implications for how people view species such as minke whales, Corkeron said. People tend to want to eradicate pests, he said.

"The issue of culling whales has been important for several years … [and] is about misrepresenting the scientific evidence to create a deceptively plausible reason for killing more whales," commented David Lavigne, a biologist with IFAW. "While some whale populations have shown signs of recovery, others have not."

There is no hard evidence to confirm that whales are conflicting with fishers, Lavigne said. "In virtually all cases, scientists cannot predict with certainty the effects of reducing marine mammal populations on the abundance of fish stocks."

Culling whales could even be detrimental to fishing interests, he said. For example, if whales consume predators of important commercially fished species, then culling could just as plausibly deplete fish stocks.

Human Overexploitation

Problems fisheries are facing are generally not due to whale populations having recovered to historic levels, said Ken Balcomb, whale biologist at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington. "Rather, the bar has been lowered by human overexploitation of some fisheries to the point that there is some whale competition for the resources," he said.

"A properly managed fishery should allow for a healthy stock of natural predators and should follow their example of not taking 95 percent of the standing stocks of prey, as many fisheries have done."

Besides, added Balcomb, most whales that have been commercially hunted eat species low in the food chain (such as herring or krill), the consumption of which should not be a significant burden to human fisheries.

"The issue of whales versus fish is fast becoming the central issue in the whaling debate," commented Phillip Clapham, marine biologist at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and member of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.

However, the argument for culling whales ignores the fact that human fisheries, not whales, are responsible for the dreadful state of many fish stocks, Clapham said, "Japan being one of the major guilty parties.

"The idea that whales are out there, eating our fish, … is an absurd oversimplification of marine ecological relationships. Even if we did cull lots of whales, it's unlikely that this would result in more fish for human fisheries, since other fish, not whales, are the major predators of fish."

For more news on whales, scroll down.

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