What’s the best way to study whales? Kill them by the hundreds!

A humpback whale throws itself from the water: in its enthusiasm to give its life for science.
A humpback whale throws itself from the water: in its enthusiasm to give its life for science.Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
I mean, I think I’d have guessed that the best way to gather scientific data on whales would be to observe them, and maybe toss some electronic tracking tags on them. But then again, I’m no scientist, so I’ll leave cetacean biology up to folks like those on the Japanese “scientific research whaling” fleet, which disembarked on Sunday with the intention of catching 1100 whales to study the whales’ “population, age composition, sex ratio, and natural mortality rate.” Then, in accordance with the regulations of the International Whaling Commision, these 1100 research subjects will be butchered and sold as food.

It seems a little goofy, I know, killing all these whales in the name of science, but you know what they say: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few thousand whales.”

This hunt (we’ll call it a hunt, for simplicity’s sake) is just another episode in a decades long debate over whaling rights and practices. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on all whaling, in response to severely depleted whale populations. This cessation of whale hunting had just a couple exceptions: aboriginal subsistence whaling, which allows small scale whaling by aboriginal groups with a tradition of whaling, and the scientific research whaling, which says that whales can be taken for scientific purposes. The harvested whales can then be sold for consumption.

Japan has a cultural tradition of whaling, dating back a thousand years at least. Whaling became particularly important, however, after WWII, when whales became “a cheap source of protein in the Japanese post-war diet.” Whale consumption peaked in 1962, and has since declined in popularity, to the point where it is now a subsidized industry. The for-profit company behind the research expeditions sells about 60 million dollars worth of whale products each year.

The Japanese government maintains their country’s whaling is done for scientific purposes alone, although critics point out that the scientific whaling uses the exact same boats, crews, and equipment as was used for commercial whaling prior to the moratorium.

This year, the Japanese fleet plans on catching 1000 minke whales, a relatively plentiful species of small baleen whale, as well as 50 humpback whales and 50 fin whales, which are vulnerable and endangered species, respectively. Geenpeace plans on intercepting the fleet with their flagship Esperanza, and then, I don’t know, yelling a lot. It promises to be an exciting expedition, especially for the whales.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

why do people kill whales anyway? i mean just for the pleasure of it or do they like sell it?
whales are like the most peaceful animals on the planet and they're only enemy is man.
i feel bad for whales cause almost of them have been shot or have harpoons stuck into them and they're still able to have babies. rock on peoples

posted on Wed, 11/21/2007 - 5:10pm
chrispash's picture
chrispash says:

I have been visiting Japan since 1980, first on a scholarship and since on business. I like Japan, its culture and the people.

However, this is not a cultural issue. It is an ethical issue. No human need is being fulfilled by killing a whale. There is no cure for cancer or a solution to hunger. The meat ends up on the plates of the affluent. And no great scientific knowledge is being gained by the death of any whale.

Whales are wild stock. You cannot compare the death of a whale to the death of a farmed animal. We know so little about whales and we can never be sure of their numbers. There is no argument to justify the whale hunt by Japan’s government.

posted on Thu, 11/22/2007 - 10:52pm
Kiyoko's picture
Kiyoko says:

Thats horrible! First of all, killing the whales for "science" is totally not justified. its not really science either. all they do is supposedly do like 2 experiments on them and then chop theem up for food! you really cant compare the death of a whale to the death of a farmed animal...that makes me so mad!

posted on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 9:11am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

JGordon, you're wrong on so many levels.

posted on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 10:58am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I, um, what?
Like, factually?

Or do you mean the headline?

I don't really think that the best way to study whales is the kill them by the hundreds. I was just being facetious.

I don't imagine that anyone actually thinks that, even governments participating in "scientific research whaling." This exception to the moratorium on whaling seems to be almost entirely dependent on political relations, but has to be couched in science to appear to be anything like acceptable.

Maybe (and maybe not) there's something to the argument in favor of allowing some whaling as a trade off for good international relations, but any pro-whaling argument based on scientific research or environmentalism is pretty blatantly goofy. For example, I guess there are some whaling proponents in Japan who argue that whales are responsible for holding down fish populations, when in fact human over-fishing is almost certainly the sole factor behind suffering fish populations.

posted on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 2:45pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

So you're saying instead of slaughtering hundreds of innocent whales, we should kill hundreds of humans instead? How can you justify this? Whales are really cute and related to wolves.

posted on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 4:06pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:


Anyway, thank you, mdr.

posted on Sat, 11/24/2007 - 12:06am
Shocked Reader's picture
Shocked Reader says:

why kill them buy the hundreds????? that is horrible!!!!!!!!!

posted on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 5:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Yes, whaline is obscene. Hunting whales
is not fishing; whales are not fish to be
eaten! Any moron who believes whales
can or should be so cruelly butchered have
no good in them.
The screams of dying whales is testified to
by those who have witnessed their
There is no justification for whaling in this
day and age. It was a mistake of the past
and a dishonour to those nations who did
such work. Whaling is unnecessary and
obscene! No argument.
Whales were created and blessed by God
on the fifth day of creation; long before man
was on the scene.
I personally hope God will sink the Japanese
fleet into the depth of the ocean, never to be
heard of again. For, what goes around comes
around, and there will be a great reckoning.

posted on Fri, 01/04/2008 - 1:31am

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