Whales on the Net - GWA Report on 55th IWC AGM

Notes from the 55th IWC Meeting

Report from Whale Killing Methods Workshop at IWC Berlin - 9th June 2002

The US has again supplied no time to death (TTD) data for their ' aboriginal' Bowhead hunt and presented a short paper on the controversial Makah hunt (IWC/55/WK2) saying 'The tribe's overall hunting methods are humane'. The Makah tribe killed a single whale in 1999 'within eight minutes'. No further hunting has taken place due to ongoing legal challenges from NGOs.

No time to death (TTD) data was supplied by Japan for 'scientific& #8217; whaling for Brydes, sei or sperm whales. Obviously, the data is likely to be so bad that Japan doesn't want to present it. The Japanese do not use a larger grenade for these species, and for animals double the size of minkes the TTD is likely to be much longer than the average 2.5 minutes the Japanese claim for minkes in their 'scientific' whaling.

A Japanese paper (IWC/55/WK24) dismisses any movements of harpooned whales, including one that 'violently swam and showed frantic movement with repeated breaching', by saying 'It was assumed that the behaviour of the harpooned whale was a kind of unconscious reflex movement'. The line 'It was assumed that the whale moved unconsciously' is repeated in six examples cited from their Antarctic 'research' programme under two categories where post-mortem examination concluded that the central nervous system, or the heart of the whale, was destroyed by the harpoon detonation. Clearly the Japanese are trying to suggest that most reported TTDs are overestimates by the gunners and death is virtually instantaneous. This of course is nonsense, not least because the gunners avoid the head in order to preserve the ear-plugs of the whales. The whales are still moving because they are alive, and in agony.

A UK paper (WK18) and 'Report of the International Scientific Workshop on Sentience and Potential Suffering in Hunted Whales' ( 15/16 June 01) produced by the RSPCA, questioning the efficacy of IWC criteria for the onset of insensibility and death in whales is both timely and extremely important. Whereas the Norwegians presented several papers and have at least made efforts to reduce TTD, there is obviously a very long way to go with the Japanese, and with improving the humaneness of aboriginal hunts by native communities for large and small whales. It seems at least that the Japanese have abandoned the use of the ineffectual and cruel electric lance as a secondary killing method and are using rifles instead.

Denmark and Russia have not produced any TTD for beluga and other small cetacean hunts but the reported TTDs for fin and minke whales range from 7 minutes -300 minutes for minkes and 5-25 min for fins ( which seems unlikely). Denmark (Greenland and the Faroes) refused to supply data to the IWC WKM workshop arguing predictably that small cetaceans are outside the competence of the IWC. For pilot-whaling in the Faroes a new round-headed gaffe is being used which is inserted into the blowhole and used to pull the whale to the boat, or the shallows, so that the knife can be used to cut down into the neck sufficiently so that the whales' thrashings break the spinal chord and/or it bleeds to death. It is extremely arguable whether this is a more humane method than the hooked gaffe as the blowhole obstruction must increase stress for the animal and pulling on the gaffe must cause extreme pain - perhaps the equivalent of dragging a human being around by the nostrils.

The controversial Russian 'aboriginal' hunt for 140 gray whales has produced some of the worst TTDs of any hunts including 180 bullets used to kill a single animal in 1999. During the 2001 season an average of 54 bullets were used per animal with an average TTD of 43 minutes and a maximum of 87 (IWC55/ WK22). This of course remains an appallingly cruel hunt.

St Vincent and the Grenadines provides no data on TTD for humpback whales killed in its increased and controversial aboriginal hunt of up to 4 whales per year. However, a cold harpoon, an eight-foot lance, a bomb lance and shoulder gun may be used to kill the animal suggesting methods are inefficient and death times extremely prolonged.

The Norwegians produced several papers including research in to brain damage caused by penthrite harpoon detonations, and the efficacy of high-caliber rifles for secondary killing. One report examines TTD improvements citing the 1998 season, when 625 minke whales were killed, with 64% (400 whales) reported instantaneously killed and an average TTD of over 3 minutes and a maximum of 68 min.

In 2002, the figures for 634 minke whales recorded were that 80.7% (512) died 'instantaneously' with an average TTD of 2min 21 sec and a maximum of 90 minutes. For the past three years: 1667 whales have been taken by Norway of which 79.7% were instantaneously killed (1328), with an average TTD of 2 mins 17 secs.

However, given that the IWC criteria for insensibility and death are open to question, the reliability of such figures, particularly claims of an 'instantaneous' death, must be in considerable doubt. Nevertheless, whatever improvements may have been made in killing methods, death times and suffering in whaling operations continue to be a major concern and argument against the killing of such highly sentient creatures.

The Japanese walked out of the meeting when the UK's Protocol for collection of welfare data was discussed. The Norwegians tried to argue that such data should be voluntary and not a requirement under the IWC&# 8217;s Revised Management Scheme (RMS) being developed for any resumption of commercial whaling. The UK dismissed these arguments saying it revealed how uncooperative the whalers were being over the RMS and that the WKM Workshop was not the place to discuss RMS issues. The UK said the agenda item was for discussing the collection of data that could be used to assess welfare and that the WKM Workshop was the appropriate forum to discuss that.

The UK also presented a paper on 'The Potential Stress Effects Of Whaling Operations and the Welfare Implications For Hunted Cetaceans&# 8217; (WK19) that raises the question that hunted whales may actually suffer injury and possibly die from stress even if they escape the harpoon. The Norwegians ridiculed this paper, and the Icelanders sarcastically suggested that if chasing from boats was a problem for whales then whale-watching would also be a stressful experience for whales. The Norwegians did reveal that minke whales are curious and often approach the whaling boats.

Under 'any other business' the Icelanders were asked what methods would be used to kill the whales in their proposed 2 year, 500 whale (100 minke, 100 fin and 50 sei) 'scientific' whaling programme. Interestingly, the Icelandic Commissioner ducked the question saying no decision has yet been taken to conduct the hunt. Rumour has it the Icelanders are under more pressure now that the US has formally 'objected' to their reservation to the moratorium. Although this does not effect Iceland's 'scientific' whaling per se, they are obviously keeping their options open and do not want to attract further criticism by admitting they will use ' cold' harpoons to kill the whales (Iceland has no grenade harpoons). This would technically be in breach of IWC rules as Iceland did not include an 'objection' to the cold harpoon ban in its successful renewed membership application last year.

Finally, when the subject was raised, delegates were astonished to hear the Japanese complain that importing more powerful Norwegian grenade harpoons to improve TTDs for the larger whales would be too costly at 2- 3 times more expensive than using their own. In a paper (WK23) they complained that Norwegian grenades cost '$764 apiece' while the Japanese version was only '$175.' However, the Norwegian grenade can be reused if the whale is missed while the Japanese harpoon cannot. The cost of a whale taken by Japan was estimated at $270 and the report concluded that 'The financial aspect related to the selection of grenades should be considered very carefully as we proceed with research or start future commercial whaling'

That's all for now

Andy Ottaway at IWC 55 Berlin - On behalf of Campaign Whale and the Global Whale Alliance

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