Subject: New Study
Warns Whale Populations Too Low for Hunting
New Study Warns Whale Populations Too Low for HuntingNew Study
Whale Populations Too Low for Hunting
PALO ALTO, California, July 25, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists have
number of humpbacks and other great whales that inhabited the
North Atlantic Ocean
before the advent of whaling, according to geneticists from
Stanford and Harvard
The findings, published today in the journal Science, could cast
grave doubts on
the scientific rationale used by countries that advocate lifting a
moratorium on commercial whaling established by the London-based
International Whaling Commission (IWC), the scientists say.
The IWC, which is the main organization that regulates whaling,
policies that will allow for the resumption of commercial hunting
reach a little more than half of their historic numbers.
But the findings of the new study expose a problem with this
policy, which relies
on historic estimates of unconfirmed whaling records dating back
to the mid-1800s,
says Stephen Palumbi, a professor of biological sciences at
Stanford and co-author
of the study.
"It is well known that hunting dramatically reduced all
baleen whale populations, yet reliable estimates of former whale
abundances are elusive," wrote Palumbi and
Harvard graduate student Joe Roman, lead author of the study.
provide clues, but may be incomplete, intentionally under reported
or fail to
consider hunting loss."
Roman and Palumbi say their study is the first to use genetics
rather than whaling
records to confirm the number of whales that used to exist.
The new study casts some doubt on the International Whaling
historical baseline of some whale populations, including humpbacks.
"The genetics of populations has within it information about
the past," Palumbi explained. "If you can read the
amount of genetic variation the difference in DNA
from one individual whale to another and calibrate that, then
you can estimate
the historic size of the population."
The scientists focused on the genetics of North Atlantic humpback,
fin and minke
whales three species decimated in the mid-19th and early-20th
centuries by the
demand for whale oil, baleen and meat.
"The genetics we have done of whales in the North Atlantic
says that, before
whaling, there were a total of 800,000 to 900,000 humpback, fin
and minke whales
far greater numbers than anybody ever thought," Palumbi said.
Comparing DNA samples from 188 humpback whales, Roman and Palumbi
determined that the historic population in the North Atlantic may
have been 240,000,
some 12 times greater than the IWC estimate.
Using these results, Palumbi estimated that the worldwide humpback
have been as high as 1.5 million more than 10 times the IWC's
estimate of 100,000.
After analyzing DNA samples from 87 minke whales, the scientists
concluded that the
pre-whaling North Atlantic minke population was at least 265,000.
This is roughly
twice the number of minkes that inhabit the North Atlantic today,
according to the
A minke whale is hauled aboard a Japanese factory ship in the
Ocean - Japanese officials at the IWC contend there are too many
whales in the
An analysis of the DNA of 253 fin whales yielded similar results
Roman and Palumbi concluded that the pre-whaling population was
about 360,000, some 10 times
higher than the IWC¹s historical estimate. The IWC estimates that
today¹s fin whale
population is about 56,000.
Reconciling these number is an essential component of future whale
conservation, Palumbi says.
Under the current policies of the IWC, which declared a worldwide
commercial whaling in 1986, a majority of its 51 members could
lift the moratorium
and allow whale hunting in regions where populations has reached
54 percent of its
original carrying capacity.
"This is a real conundrum," Palumbi said. "Humpback
whales, for example, were thought to have numbered about 20,000 in
the North Atlantic, and we are up to about
10,000 now, so at that rate, the IWC could allow countries to
start killing humpbacks within the next decade."
"But if the historic population was really 240,000, as the
genetics suggests, then
we would not be able to start whaling for another 70 to 100 years."
Roman and Palumbi write that in light of their findings, current
humpback or fin whales are "far from harvestable."
Minke whales are closer to genetically defined population limits,
they wrote, and
hunting decisions regarding them "must be based on other data".
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