Replace ban on whaling, study urges

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A 19-year-old global moratorium on commercial whaling should be lifted and replaced by a tightly regulated program that combines hunting and protection, a new study suggests.

Although most whale species have rebounded since the moratorium was enacted in 1986, the killing of the large, ocean-going mammals continues under the guise of science, says the study, published in the journal Science.

“What we are trying to do is raise awareness that there could be more whales taken under scientific permit while the moratorium is on than would be under a proper management regime,” said Mark Zacharias, a University of Victoria marine biologist and one of the three authors of the report.

“We fully expect to take a lot of heat for this. . . . People are going to say, ‘You’re suggesting that we resume global whaling?’ Yes, we are suggesting that, but it’s better than the alternative, which is pretending it doesn’t happen.”

Dr. Zacharias, Leah Gerber of Arizona State University and David Hyrenbach of North Carolina’s Duke University were asked by the International Whaling Commission to determine whether an existing sanctuary would adequately protect whales if commercial hunting resumed.

The three marine biologists, who received no funding for the study, looked specifically at the Southern Ocean sanctuary, a massive reserve south of 40 degrees latitude that includes all of the waters surrounding Antarctica.

Although there are other whale sanctuaries, the Southern Ocean reserve is one of only two created by the IWC, a 56-country body comprising members that both support and oppose the hunting of whales. Canada is not a member.

Created in 1994, the sanctuary is off-limits to commercial whaling but member countries are permitted to take animals under scientific permits. Japan, for example, kills about 400 minke whales a year within the sanctuary.

Other critics have come forward to say the loosely regulated permits have allowed the hunt to continue.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” said Jerry Conway, a whale expert with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “This is, for all intents and purposes, a commercial harvest and doesn’t do anything for legitimate science.”

Dr. Zacharias and his colleagues believe the sanctuaries were created largely for political reasons and don’t take into account the migratory behaviour of most whales.

He said the sanctuaries protect the animals only from commercial hunting while doing nothing about threats posed by pollution, shipping, oil-and-gas exploration and depleted food supplies.

The study suggests the scientific permits should be eliminated and the sanctuaries should be replaced by protections that could include a ban on hunting when whales are in their breeding grounds.

“The moratorium has really done its purpose,” Dr. Zacharias said. “It has allowed a lot of stocks to recover. However, the problem now is that most of the world and the public believe there is no commercial and aboriginal whaling going on, but whaling under scientific permit is continuing and is continuing in the sanctuary.”

Source: The Globe and Mail