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Study: Japan Skirted Regulations, Falsified Years of Whale Hunting Data

posted: 07/16/15
by: Danny Clemens
Pod of sperm whales
Shane Gross/istock

Japanese whalers allegedly falsified a decade's worth of important whaling data, ignoring weight limits and catch quotas, according to a new study.

The study, which is published in the academic journal Royal Society Open Science, cross-references officially reported statistics with declassified Soviet documents. It has long been known that the Soviet government was complicit in overexploitation of whales in the Pacific ocean -- official documents came to light after the collapse of the USSR, confirming suspicions that the Soviets vastly exceeded catch quotas.

According to that same data, Japanese authorities also intentionally deceived international regulators throughout the 1960's by reporting multiple underweight and/or juvenile sperm wales -- which were illegal to catch -- as a single whale of legal weight.

At the time, the deceptions were difficult to detect: whale oil production was still consistent with the reported number and size of whales caught. In 1972, however, the International Whaling Commission introduced further layers of regulation and oversight, making it much more difficult -- although not impossible -- to falsify reporting data.

Although the alleged falsifications occurred nearly half a century ago, current whale baseline population data could still be impacted.

"If there's been unreported catches, then we don't know how many whales have been taken from the population," Andrew Brierley, a marine ecologist at the University of St Andrews, told The Guardian. "This could mean our understanding of how the population is responding to fishing could be wrong."

The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is currently classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the whale was heavily hunted around the world for its blubber, which has a variety of industrial and commercial applications.

In 1982, the International Whaling Commission instituted a commercial whaling moratorium, which is still in place to this day. Some nations, including Japan, Iceland and Norway, object to the moratorium and continue to hunt whales commercially.

Click here to read the full study in Royal Society Open Science

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