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IFAW Technical Briefing 94:6 February, 1994

International Fund for Animal Welfare


This paper continues a series begun by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) during the meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The series was originally intended to provide accurate information on technical (scientific, legal and other) issues, in relatively simple language, to participants in IWC meetings as well as to the media.

The Briefings have from time to time been issued jointly with other International organisations. The present Briefing has been made available to the IWC Commissioners, representatives of the press and other mass media, non-government organisations and legislators. This Briefing extends and explains an interview given by Russian scientist Ernst Cherny, part of which is included in the film The Last Whale, directed by David Bradbury, produced by Youngheart Productions, Sydney, and first aired on 7 February 1994.


by Sidney Holt

In November 1993 the special Adviser to the President of Russia for Ecology and Health, Dr Alexey Yablokov, addressed a large international conference in Texas. He told the specialists gathered there that much, if not all, of the whale catch data made available by the Soviet Union to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the 1960-1970s had been fabricated. He advised that ". . . better to understand how various species of whales have been over-exploited it is necessary critically to investigate all whaling records . . ." On 13 January 1994 the British scientific periodical Nature published a letter from Yablokov giving some details about this matter, it is reproduced here in Appendix 1, together with a follow-up which I wrote subsequently.

In December 1993 Ernst Chermy, who as a younger man had taken part in Soviet whaling expeditions, and is now Chairman of the Union of Independent Fishery Workers of the Russian Federation, consented to give an interview for a film that was being produced in Australia, The Last Whale. Part of his long statement is included in the film as broadcast, and Chemy subsequently made available a full script and an article, both of which have been translated into English. The article, only slightly abridged, forms the core of this IFAW Technical Briefing.

Ernst Cheny's and Alexey Yablokov's statements implicate the fisheries authorities of the Soviet Union, but they do much more than that. They give glimpses of the connections at the time, and still continuing, between those authorities and the Japanese traders in whale products, and through them both the Japanese whaling industry and the corresponding authority in Japan - the Japan Fisheries Agency. They also show how even now efforts are being made to make new deals between the remnants of the ex-Soviet whalers and Japanese traders in whale meat.

Cherny's article should also be read in the context of unauthorised attempts during the past three years by ex-Soviet fisheries officials to resume operations 'legitimately' under Special Permits for 'scientific research'. Twice, fax messages asking for draft plans to be reviewed by the IWC Scientific Committee (as the IWC requires) arrived on the desk of the IWC Secretary from addresses in Russia, and were assumed to be authentic until independent investigations proved them to be otherwise and they were rescinded by the legitimate Russian auhorities.

These 'research' proposals were put together with the 'assistance' of Japanese government scientists. The most recent would have involved two catcher boats chartered in Japan, and also the catcher which has for many years been used to kill grey whales (and possibly other species there, most likely the bowhead), in the eastern Arctic, theoretically on behalf of the native people in that region. These new operations would have been conducted in the Sea of Okhotsk, supposedly killing only minke whales there, and it was undoubtedly intended that the products would have been shipped down to Japan.

Cherny's article refers mainly to illegal killing of protected species, killing of non-protected species over accepted quotas, killing inside regions out of bounds to factory ships, killing mother whales and their calves, and other transgressions of long established rules of conduct. Why is this so important now?

First, because the Revised Management Procedure (RMS) proposed by the IWC's Scientific Committee to regulate a resumption of commercial killing of baleen whaling depends on only two kinds of information: an estimate of how many whales are now left, and a series of historical catch data. In testing the proposed procedure by computer simulations the Committee has manoeuvered itself into a rather ridiculous position because it has said, in effect, that the validity of the data is not important, the RMP is said to be 'robust' to large-scale cheating, because in the very long run (100 years) it will not lead to a much higher probability of depletion or extinction of whales than if whaling did not resume. That may or may not be true, but the fact is that the accuracy or otherwise of the catch statistics matters very much, since if the whalers under-report catches they will automatically get higher quotas under the RMP. It is for that reason, for example, that in discussion of possible quotas for minke whales in the Northeast Atlantic Norwegian scientists insist that, even though it is admitted that their whalers caught far more whales in the 1980s than they reported, only the official historical catches would be used in calculations. In all cases the whalers have a strong incentive to under-report as much as they possibly can, and the authorities, trying to please their whalers have an incentive to use the falsified rather than the true historical statistics.

The second reason for recognising the importance of enforcement failures is the evidence that inspection and control systems as they have been understood to date in the whaling business simply do not work. Whales are extraordinarily valuable animals in the form of meat; the temptation for outlaw exploitation, whenever and wherever and however possible, is virtually overwhelming. The Soviet, Japanese and Norwegian Governments have always been lax in enforcing their own regulations about whaling and about trade in products from whales, even in their own waters, under their own flags, and in their own territory. National inspectors when they have been in place (which has not been so in Norway) have succumbed to various pressures and learnt that even courageous reports would be buried in bureaucracies, and international inspection (in which the whalers exchanged inspectors between themselves) has never been more than a bad joke. The high seas of the Antartic are still a no mans land as far as control is concerned. This is why the RMP, no matter how safe it might seem to be in ideal circumatances (and there are still some doubts about that) and even if reinforced with nominal inspection schemes, CANNOT be a sound basis for conservation of whales in that remote region.

Some government officials are known to be toying with the idea of compromising on the original proposal for a circumpolar sanctuary in the Southern Ocean by protecting only certain sectors. But even half or more of the circumpolar region was to be closed, this would not ensure that pelagic operations, whether by Member states of the IWC or, more likely, by non Members, acting as clients of and suppliers to certain Members, did not occur also in part of the closed region.

Mr. Cherny's account of past events is especially poignant for me because of my own involvement with the IWC which began in1960 when I was asked, as a specialist on the staff of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), to serve as one of a group of "three wise men" who would advise the Commission on what action it should take to bring the Antartic catches of blue and fin whales down to sustainable levels. Two of the antarctic whaling seasons for which Cherny gives data are thoses of 1961/62 and 1962/63. I thought I could help put his account in context for readers unfamiliar with the history of Antarctic whaling and of the IWC and have accordingly added some facts in end-notes to this briefing.

In 1960 the main catches of baleen whales in the Antarctic were blue fin and a few humpback and sei whales. While the Commission was concerened about the plight of the fins and blues as a whole, the pelagic whalers - especially Japan, Norway and USSR - were preparing their onslought on the sei whales. This meant operating rather further to the north, which brought them into the concentrations of the pygmy blue whale. It also probably made some of the supposedly protected right whales accessible to these pelagic operations which, although by long-standing IWC rules were only permitted south of 40 degrees latitude we know to have been conducted also northward of that line- at least by Soviet vessels.

Twelve years later, when the United Nations was meeting in Stockholm and agreeing to recommend a ten-year moratorium on all commercial whaling, thinking mainly about the big baleen whale species and the sperm whale, Japan and the USSR were planning their joint Antartic onslaught on the, "last whale." the small but abundant southern hemisphere minke. Japan did not oppose the Stockholm proposal, for a very good pragmatic reason, it was directed to the IWC and the Japanese and Soviet authorities knew very well that THERE they could easily block it's adoption.

Then seven years later, the Japanese pelagic industry - naturally with the assistance of the Government - was planning an assult on the Brydes whales of the Indian Ocean and the tropical west Pacific. This was thwarted by the rejection by the Scientific Committee of the estimates of abundance offered by Dr. Sejii Ohsumi and his colleagues and in 1979 by the declaration of the Indian Ocean as a whale sanctuary, but not before several hundred 'samples' of this species - which is about the same size as the sei whale - had been taken three years in a row under 'special scientific permits'. Notwithstanding the IWC's requirement that the scientific results of such sampling be reported nothing more than intrim notices have ever been provided to the Scientific Committee by the Japanese delegation.

It is also timely, in this connection, to look at the Norwegian side of this industry, in view of the whitewash job undertaken by the present Ministries of Fisheries and of Foreign Affairs and the office of the Prime Minister. According to an information sheet put out by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foregin Affairs, in October 1984,"...with increasing signs of depletion of the large whales (in Antartic waters) Norway AT AN EARLY STAGE withdrew from this activity, and the last Norwegian expedition left the Antartic in the 1967/68 season". In reality Norway hung in as long as it possibly could; the greed of it's whaling enterprises to squeese the last drop of profit from the whales was certainly no less than that of the Dutch, British, Japanese, and Soviets. The UK and the Netherlands had already given up. Norway was pushed out by Japanese economic manoeuvres and an unusual economic timidity. Precisely how this happened is recorded in detail by the Norwegian historians of whaling, J.N. Tonnessen and A.O. Johnsen.

Meanwhile, the "small type" commercial minke whaling, which began in the North Atlantic in the 1930's, had expanded after the Second World War without any controls at all. Even the IWC's regulations requiring National inspectors at all land stations and on pelagic ships were ignored. Data which the IWC Convention requires to be provided promptly was not submitted, because, it was said, the authorities did not consider the minke whale to be a real "whale!" We have no way of knowing how reliable are the historical catch statistics used by the IWC to asses the consequences of these operations, but when it was proposed, in 1974, that catch limits should for the first time be imposed, Norwegian scientists said that would be a mistake because they could never be enforced. There was, of course, no International Observer Scheme for these operations.

However, we do know what happened when, in 1984, a sharply reduced minke quota was adopted for the Northeast Atlantic, and the authorities introduced for the first time a quota for each boat in the fleet. The catch statistics provided were falsified to the extent that up to one quarter of the true catch was not reported. For Norway's resumed outlaw whaling in 1993 it was announced that a national inspector - a veterinarian- would be stationed on every boat; but no international observers.

The world now also knows that a recent attempt to smuggle minke meat to Japan via Oslo and South Korea was foiled only by the alertness of an airport cargo handler who noticed whale meat spilling out of a broken package labelled "Norwegian Frozen Shrimps", and recognized it for what it really was. Indeed, the record of European governments in stopping whale meat smuggling has not been good. The cases detected in recent years - meat of Icelandic origin passing through Hamburg and Helsinki - as well as the event in Oslo, have been due to the viligance of private persons and non-government organisations.

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