Since We Last Spoke: In the Name of Research? - Pacific Standard

Since We Last Spoke: In the Name of Research?

Updates to past Pacific Standard stories.
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Editor's Note: A version of this story first appeared on PSmag.com on December 04, 2015, with the headline "Japan Is Killing Whales in the Name of 'Science'." This edited version was published in our March/April 2016 print issue.

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The Aleut: The Soviet Union's oldest factory ship works off the coast of Kamchatka in 1958. (Photo: Courtesy of Yulia Ivashchenko)

The Aleut: The Soviet Union's oldest factory ship works off the coast of Kamchatka in 1958. (Photo: Courtesy of Yulia Ivashchenko)

When Japan announced that last year's three-month hunt would take some 300 minke whales, many were outraged. "There is no need to kill whales in the name of research," Greg Hunt, Australia's environment minister, said in a statement. "Non-lethal research techniques are the most effective and efficient method of studying all cetaceans."

But minke whales—which are not endangered—can be fished sustainably, and hunting a select number of them each year provides valuable insight into their health and migration, Japanese officials told the Washington Post. Conservationists, however, criticize the country's whaling program as a front to evade commercial bans; all of the carcasses are eventually butchered and sold to Japanese markets.

Today's urgency to save the whales may stem from residual traumas of historic overfishing—like, for example, the secret, rampant whaling undertaken by the Soviet Union that Charles Homans described in our November/December 2013 issue. By 1986, the same year an international ban on whaling went into effect, the Soviet Union had killed as many as 18 times more humpback whales as had been reported. The decades-long cover-up has been called one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century, and was "one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history," according to Homans.

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Since We Last Spoke examines the latest policy and research updates to past Pacific Standard news coverage.

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