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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Whales Eat "Some" of the Fish

It's been my pleasure over the past week to be conversing my email with Mr. Sidney Holt. Following a response to a previous posting here, he was kind enough to leave a comment and even more gracious to actually reply to my email questioning him further.

Now, being only a fresh face in the world of whaling I'll confess the name Sidney Holt had not rang any bells with me. Following his initial comment I did some research and find myself awed by having encountered someone of such lofty and academic status within the whaling world, and even more pleased that he has taken the time to converse with me.

Sidney's profile on the nature network:
"I  am a biologist, specialised in fish and marine mammals population dynamics and management of fisheries and whaling. I am retired, with no specific connection with government of academic institutions now, but many informal contacts with NGOs and some government and UN agencies. My interests and activities are global in extent and I am currently especially interested in the history of the above subjects and activities."
Having a common interest Sidney has furnished me with a number of his papers and they make excellent reading. His works that are in the public domain in regard to whaling are without doubt highly relevant and very well supported by other such scientific materials by his peers.

Sidney has kindly allowed me to quote and publish his public works which over the coming weeks I am bound to do, because it is a veritable gold mine of information.

Initially I thought I'd expand upon the original posting I made "Who Eats All the Fish?" by adding some further information from Sidney.


Whales Competing with HumansWhales Competing with Humans?
by Sidney Holt

The idea that whales are eating all of the fish and therefore need to be controlled by culling is an argument put forth by Japan to bring about commercial whaling. However, their own scientific research - which has not been peer reviewed, when presented to it's peers leaves a lot to be desired.

It seems the science is skewed heavily not just in what it contains but also by what it doesn't.

Immediately it becomes apparent that the Japanese lack of peer review means they are capable of manipulating it to their own ends - but even then produce something of a double edged sword.
"...qualitative and quantitative information about the diets of whales is much more difficult to obtain non-lethally, so the scientific whaling operations might appear to have some justification in that respect. That argument has indeed been used in practically all of the materials published and distributed by the proponents of such whaling. Thus the failure to use those data would appear surprising, until it is realized that they simply do not support the idea that the baleen whales, especially the Bryde's whale, are big consumers of fish and therefore might be significantly competitive with humans for marine resources, and so such data are inconvenient to those who seek to promote that idea."
The attached document goes to show just how much of a problem this is. Japan's presentation of such data to the IWC proves enough to sway the vote in a declaration by just one vote. If the Japanese are able to present such information to the IWC without it being validated where will other such convenient half truths lead?
"The ICR study employed seriously flawed methodology, contained many errors (almost all in the same direction) and used the limited published data selectively, resulting in a serious upward bias in the quantities calculated."
The paragraph accepted into the declaration is just ludicrous and frustratingly based on such poorly delivered science. Or should I contradict myself and congratulate the Japanese for such a great delivery to such an accepting forum.
"ACCEPTING that scientific research has shown that whales consume huge quantities of fish making the issue a matter of food security for coastal nations and requiring that the issue of management of whale stocks must be considered in a broader context of ecosystem management since ecosystem management has now become an international standard."
Now I'm no scientist, not by a long way. Science can seriously make my brain ache. I struggle with a lot of the mathematical equations used but resign myself to the fact that this is what these scientists do every day and have studied long and hard for. They are experienced and knowledgeable in their field, as I am in mine. So when I read this document why do I feel like I have a better grasp on this stuff than the scientists of the ICR (Institute of Cetacean Research)?
"They calculated annual consumption by multiplying the estimate of daily consumption by 365, although most of the baleen whales feed for only part of the year – roughly one third of the time."
No account is taken to the fact that even those whales that do eat fish, don't actually eat the same fish we do and in fact by eating those particular species may actually benefit the populations of those that we do eat!
"...an unmeasured – or, at least, unreported - proportion was of species of no commercial interest, and even some that are competitors with the species of commercial interest or predators on them."
My questions on this Japanese science are simple - In the past when there were so many more whales in the ocean, before man began harvesting them, were there more or less fish? Surely the whales would have eaten them all. How does the huge decrease in whale numbers explain the decimation of the fish stocks? If less whales equates to more fish then surely since the 1930's and our mass slaughter of the whale the seas must be teeming with fish.

On this topic I end in gratitude to Sidney Holt and thank him for his enlightenment on this and other related issues. I look forward to the "Idiot's Guide".

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