Antarctic minke whales can possibly be fished
Antarctic minke whales – like the three filmed dead on a Japanese whaling ship yesterday – are so abundant that research may show they can be formally fished, International Whaling Commission documents reveal.
Japanese whaling research papers submitted to the commission – based on analysis from “scientific” whaling cruises – suggest more than 2 million minkes are in the area south of Australia and New Zealand.
The International Whaling Commission this week posted the agreed minutes of the scientific committee annual meeting held in South Korea in June.
It gave Japan permission to carry out whaling “biopsy sampling and photo-id work” in the Ross Sea this month.
“The use of consistent protocols over time makes this series of cruises a valuable resource, not least for analysing ice effects,” it said.
The commission complained it was difficult to review Japan's plans without detailed design information “but noted that this seems unavoidable given security considerations”.
Radical environmental group Sea Shepherd said yesterday it had found the Japanese fleet, including the factory ship, Nisshin Maru, in the Ross Sea.
It filmed three dead minkes on its deck and believed a fourth one was being butchered.
Sea Shepherd said the Japanese were in New Zealand “sovereign waters", but Foreign Minister Murray McCully said this was factually wrong, describing the Ross Sea as international waters.
Sea Shepherd said today the whalers had been “scattered and [were] currently not hunting whales.
“The harpoon ships are separated by hundreds of miles.”
It said Sea Shepherd had “escorted” the fleet across the 60 degrees south mark that is the northern limit of the Antarctic Treaty Zone.
“We have won this battle, but the war for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary will wage on over the coming months,” Adam Meyerson, captain of the Sam Simon, said.
The commission's report says it is undertaking an in-depth assessment of the minke, particularly around the pack ice region which has not been surveyed at all.
It describes minkes as abundant but estimates on three separate populations are uncertain.
There had been a “decline in abundance” between two populations but the decline was not statistically significant.
New methods of estimating whale numbers will be produced this year.
There is no formal declaration on resuming whaling for Antarctic minkes but the same format is used in the commission's report discussing commercial fishing of northern minkes, which is already extensive.
The IWC said that in the 2012/13 summer, it had approved a dedicated sighting survey by Japan in the Southern Ocean.
“Four research vessels” were used, including three “sighting/sampling vessels” and one research base vessel, it said.
“Unfortunately, the research activities were interrupted several times by Sea Shepherd, which directed violent sabotage activities against Japanese research vessels.”
The Japanese took 103 minkes last summer.
On other whales, the scientific committee reviewed research on southern right whales after a study around New Zealand last year.
Studies showed it was returning, including evidence of females returning to the same New Zealand calving ground.
The IWC's best model on population says New Zealand has about 2100 right whales.
On Maui's dolphin, the scientific committee “reiterates its extreme concern about the survival".
Rather than seeking further scientific evidence, the highest priority should be given to immediate management actions, it says.
This includes full closures of any fisheries within the range of Maui's dolphins that are known to pose a risk of bycatch of small cetaceans.
On Bryde's whales, the IWC estimates there are 21,000 globally but they were concerned at the fate of those in the Hauraki Gulf.
“The population is believed to be less than 200 individuals and there have been 16 confirmed ship-strike mortalities between 1996 and 2013,” the committee reported.
The committee received three papers on blue whales off New Zealand and said that as a result of hybridisation, the species here “are most likely to represent a form of pygmy blue whales”.
The IWC also noted the situation in Kaikoura and whale watching targeting sperm whales.
Research had “identified a decline in the abundance of sperm whales over the period since whale watching started, although the cause of the decline is unknown.”