Climate Change Biggest Risk to Whales, says IWC
Date: Thu, 6 June, 1996
By Michael Perry
SYDNEY, Australia (Reuter) - Global climate change, pollution and the hole in the ozone layer are greater risks to the world's whale populations than whaling, International Whaling Commission (IWC) Chairman Peter Bridgewater said Wednesday. (Pieter Folkens comments)
Though resumption of commercial whaling would devastate whale numbers, he said, there were no moves to do so, neither by Japan which conducted "scientific" whaling nor Norway which resumed whaling in May.
"I think the threat from all sorts of extrinsic sources to whale populations pose a significantly greater threat than the whaling activities that exist", Bridgewater told Reuters.
"We may well see potential for (population) crashes for other reasons (than whaling)", he said ahead of this month's IWC meeting in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The IWC must now focus on these new threats
The IWC must now focus on these new threats, Bridgewater said. "There is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest there are effects from pollution on whale populations, even though they are highly migratory animals which spend a lot of their time in what we would call remote oceans".
The Environmental Investigation Agency, a research group based in London and Washington, detailed in May recent cetacean deaths as a result of pollution. More than 1,500 striped dolphins died in the Mediterranean from a virus linked to high levels of pollutants; 750 bottlenose dolphins were killed in the Gulf of Mexico from a combination of pollution, viral infection and toxic algal; while toxic algal killed 14 humpback whales off the U.S. east coast. Bridgewater said whale fat readily absorbed pollutants.
"We really need to have a more strategic global program looking at the effects of pollutants on whales", he added.
Climate change also posed a risk to whales, particularly in Antarctica, a major whale sanctuary. Ozone depletion over the Antarctic could expose whales to damaging solar radiation, which could impact on future whale stocks.
Antarctica's eco-system has been damaged in the past century through whaling, sealing and krill fishing, he said. Shrimp-like krill are a major food source for whales. Antarctica's altered environment may also be adversely affecting whales. It's eco-system has been damaged in the past century through whaling, sealing and krill fishing, he said. Shrimp-like krill are a major food source for whales. Antarctica's altered environment may also be adversely affecting whales, he said.
"My guess it will take a few years for these effects to come through", Bridgewater said.
The Global ban on Whaling remaines Strong
A report on the effect of climate change on whales is to be presented to the IWC meeting starting June 24. To date, whale preservation has focused on a 1982 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling. Currently 12 of about 80 species of whales are protected and populations are recovering.
Bridgewater said he believed support for a global ban on whaling remained strong, despite Japanese and Norwegian whaling, moves to allow whaling for some indigenous peoples and reports that South Africa may review IWC membership. Japan kills 400 minke whales each year in the Southern Ocean for "research", while Norway resumed whaling last month for cultural and commercial reasons, intending to kill 425 minkes.
Both countries will face strong criticism in Scotland, Bridgewater said.
"Australia will be pushing very hard for both the Norwegians and the Japanese to reconsider their decisions".
He said he did not believe the world would again see large-scale factory-ship whaling, but Japan was intent on creating a minke whaling industry.
"Japan has made no secret that that is what its long-term objective is", Bridgewater said.
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