Report from Whale Killing Methods Workshop at IWC 55 Berlin

Monday 9th June 03

The US has again supplied no time to death (TTD) data for their ‘ aboriginal’ Bowhead hunt and presented a short paper on the controversial Makah hunt (IWC/55/WK2) saying ’The tribe’s overall hunting methods are humane’. The Makah tribe killed a single whale in 1999 ‘within eight minutes’. No further hunting has taken place due to ongoing legal challenges from NGOs.

No time to death (TTD) data was supplied by Japan for ‘scientific& #8217; whaling for Brydes, sei or sperm whales. Obviously, the data is likely to be so bad that Japan doesn’t want to present it. The Japanese do not use a larger grenade for these species, and for animals double the size of minkes the TTD is likely to be much longer than the average 2.5 minutes the Japanese claim for minkes in their 'scientific' whaling.

A Japanese paper (IWC/55/WK24) dismisses any movements of harpooned
whales, including one that ‘violently swam and showed frantic
movement with repeated breaching’, by saying ‘It was
assumed that the behaviour of the harpooned whale was a kind of
unconscious reflex movement’. The line ‘It was assumed
that the whale moved unconsciously’ is repeated in six examples
cited from their Antarctic 'research' programme under two categories
where post-mortem examination concluded that the central nervous
or the heart of the whale, was destroyed by the harpoon detonation.
Clearly the Japanese are trying to suggest that most reported TTDs are
overestimates by the gunners and death is virtually instantaneous. This

of course is nonsense, not least because the gunners avoid the head in
order to preserve the ear-plugs of the whales. The whales are still
moving because they are alive, and in agony.

A UK paper (WK18) and ‘Report of the International Scientific
Workshop on Sentience and Potential Suffering in Hunted Whales’ (
15/16 June 01) produced by the RSPCA, questioning the efficacy of IWC
criteria for the onset of insensibility and death in whales is both
timely and extremely important. Whereas the Norwegians presented
several papers and have at least made efforts to reduce TTD, there is
obviously a very long way to go with the Japanese, and with improving
the humaneness of aboriginal hunts by native communities for large and
small whales. It seems at least that the Japanese have abandoned the
use of the ineffectual and cruel electric lance as a secondary killing
method and are using rifles instead.

Denmark and Russia have not produced any TTD for beluga and other small

cetacean hunts but the reported TTDs for fin and minke whales range
from 7 minutes –300 minutes for minkes and 5-25 min for fins (
which seems unlikely). Denmark (Greenland and the Faroes) refused to
supply data to the IWC WKM workshop arguing predictably that small
cetaceans are outside the competence of the IWC. For pilot-whaling in
the Faroes a new round-headed gaffe is being used which is inserted
into the blowhole and used to pull the whale to the boat, or the
shallows, so that the knife can be used to cut down into the neck
sufficiently so that the whales’ thrashings break the spinal
chord and/or it bleeds to death. It is extremely arguable whether this
is a more humane method than the hooked gaffe as the blowhole
obstruction must increase stress for the animal and pulling on the
gaffe must cause extreme pain - perhaps the equivalent of dragging a
human being around by the nostrils.

The controversial Russian ‘aboriginal’ hunt for 140 gray
whales has produced some of the worst TTDs of any hunts including 180
bullets used to kill a single animal in 1999. During the 2001 season
an average of 54 bullets were used per animal with an average TTD of 43

minutes and a maximum of 87 (IWC55/ WK22). This of course remains an
appallingly cruel hunt.

St Vincent and the Grenadines provides no data on TTD for humpback
whales killed in its increased and controversial aboriginal hunt of up
to 4 whales per year. However, a cold harpoon, an eight-foot lance, a
bomb lance and shoulder gun may be used to kill the animal suggesting
methods are inefficient and death times extremely prolonged.

The Norwegians produced several papers including research in to brain
damage caused by penthrite harpoon detonations, and the efficacy of
high-caliber rifles for secondary killing. One report examines TTD
improvements citing the 1998 season, when 625 minke whales were killed,

with 64% (400 whales) reported instantaneously killed and an average
TTD of over 3 minutes and a maximum of 68 min.

In 2002, the figures for 634 minke whales recorded were that 80.7%
died ‘instantaneously’ with an average TTD of 2min 21 sec
and a maximum of 90 minutes. For the past three years: 1667 whales
have been taken by Norway of which 79.7% were instantaneously killed (
1328), with an average TTD of 2 mins 17 secs.

However, given that the IWC criteria for insensibility and death are
open to question, the reliability of such figures, particularly claims
of an ‘instantaneous’ death, must be in considerable doubt.
Nevertheless, whatever improvements may have been made in killing
methods, death times and suffering in whaling operations continue to be

a major concern and argument against the killing of such highly
sentient creatures.

The Japanese walked out of the meeting when the UK’s Protocol for
collection of welfare data was discussed. The Norwegians tried to argue

that such data should be voluntary and not a requirement under the
8217;s Revised Management Scheme (RMS) being developed for any
resumption of commercial whaling. The UK dismissed these arguments
saying it revealed how uncooperative the whalers were being over the
RMS and that the WKM Workshop was not the place to discuss RMS issues.
The UK said the agenda item was for discussing the collection of data
that could be used to assess welfare and that the WKM Workshop was the
appropriate forum to discuss that.

The UK also presented a paper on ‘The Potential Stress Effects Of
Whaling Operations and the Welfare Implications For Hunted Cetaceans&#
8217; (WK19) that raises the question that hunted whales may actually
suffer injury and possibly die from stress even if they escape the
harpoon. The Norwegians ridiculed this paper, and the Icelanders
sarcastically suggested that if chasing from boats was a problem for
whales then whale-watching would also be a stressful experience for
whales. The Norwegians did reveal that minke whales are curious and
often approach the whaling boats.

Finally, under ‘any other business’ the Icelanders were
asked what methods would be used to kill the whales in their proposed 2

year, 500 whale (100 minke, 100 fin and 50 sei) ‘scientific’
whaling programme. Interestingly, the Icelandic Commissioner ducked
the question saying no decision has yet been taken to conduct the hunt.

Rumour has it the Icelanders are under more pressure now that the US
has formally
‘objected’ to their reservation to the moratorium.
Although this does not effect Iceland’s ‘scientific’
whaling per se, they are obviously keeping their options open and do
not want to attract further criticism by admitting they will use ‘
cold’ harpoons to kill the whales (Iceland has no grenade
harpoons). This would technically be in breach of IWC rules as Iceland
did not include an ‘objection’ to the cold harpoon ban in
its successful renewed membership application last year.

Finally, when the subject was raised, delegates were astonished to hear

the Japanese complain that importing more powerful Norwegian grenade
harpoons to improve TTDs for the larger whales would be too costly at
3 times more expensive than using their own. In a paper (WK23) they
complained that Norwegian grenades cost ‘$764 apiece’ while
the Japanese version was only ‘$175.‘ However, the
Norwegian grenade can be reused if the whale is missed while the
Japanese harpoon cannot. The cost of a whale taken by Japan was
estimated at $270 and the report concluded that ‘The financial
aspect related to the selection of grenades should be considered very
carefully as we proceed with research or start future commercial

Andy Ottaway at IWC 55 Berlin
On behalf of Campaign Whale and the Global Whale Alliance
Monday 9th June 03


Australia has lodged an official document objecting to Iceland’s reservation to the international ban on commercial whaling.
Following a 10-year absence from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Iceland was readmitted to the IWC last October at a Special Meeting in Cambridge, UK. Iceland’s readmission was made with a reservation against the international moratorium on commercial whaling, allowing it to commence commercial whaling after 2006 and to conduct scientific whaling at an earlier date.
Prior to withdrawing from the IWC in 1992, Iceland was subject to the global whaling moratorium.

Iceland's reservation to the whaling ban threatens to “render the Convention meaningless,” said David Kemp, Australia’s Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Kemp added that the reservation could “set a precedent that could have negative consequences for the orderly development of international law and could possibly undermine the authority of other international conventions.” This issue will be addressed at the next IWC annual
meeting, which is scheduled to be held in Berlin this June. Australia has indicated
that it will continue to champion the cause of putting an end to commercial whaling and promote the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary.

Lack of consensus on whether to allow limited commercial hunting has stalemated discussions at the 49-member Commission. In a recent meeting in Tokyo, whaling nations reiterated their position on ending the IWC’s whaling moratorium. Norwegian whaling commissioner Odd Gunnar Skagestad critiqued the IWC, stating that it has
“lost so much relevance and so much credibility that it certainly gives the impression that it is on its last legs,” while Japanese Fisheries Agency official Joji Morishita described the
IWC as dysfunctional.

Links to further information

Environmental News Network, 13 February 2003


Environmental News Service, 12 February 2003