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Results of Japanese whaling study challenged -

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Results of Japanese whaling study challenged

The World Today - Tuesday, 2 September , 2008 12:25:00

Reporter: Felicity Ogilvie

ELEANOR HALL: Back home now and a senior Australian marine mammal specialist has criticised a
scientific research paper by Japanese scientists who used data from 18 years of whaling in
Antarctica to conclude that Minke whales are losing blubber because of competition from bigger
whales.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Polar Biology and are based on
dissections of almost 7000 Minke whales that have been killed for the scientific research. The
Japanese institute responsible for the research doesn't want to talk about the paper.

But the head of Australian Antarctic Division's Marine Mammal Ecology unit Nick Gales has been
speaking about it to Felicity Ogilvie.

NICK GALES: Well we have seen at least the results of this study presented to us before in late
2006, the IWC reviewed 18 years of Japan's scientific whaling program in the southern ocean and a
version of this paper was presented at that meeting where they showed their evidence for blubber
decline in Antarctic Minke whales.

And those who were there at the review were quite critical on the basis of science of the
statistics used to show the trend and certainly on their interpretation about if the trend is real,
why it might be occurring.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Well just before we go to why it's occurring, are you saying that this science
might not even be correct, that this blubber decrease that the Japanese have found, are you
disputing those findings?

NICK GALES: Well what we were saying at the review and the way I feel now is certainly that the
type of statistics they use are relatively simple. There are some other statistical models they
could have used to more robustly test whether this trend is really real.

FELICITY OGILVIE: So you're disputing this Japanese finding that blubber has decreased in Minke
whales by nine per cent. The Japanese institution of cetacean research has actually found that out
by dissecting the whales, isn't that something that the Australian Antarctic division can't measure
in your non-lethal research?

NICK GALES: Well we can do a lot with non-lethal techniques but it's certainly true that there are
some things on animals that we can't measure without killing them. The more important question is
really whether or not you need to measure those things in the first place and whether the science
that can come out of that is important enough.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The Japanese say that the reason why the blubber of the Minke whales is
decreasing is that there's competition from other whales that humpbacks and fin and blue whales are
coming back in stronger numbers and so there's not enough food now for the Minkes to eat.

What do you think about that?

NICK GALES: Well it's an incredibly simplistic interpretation and there are many others that would
probably be vastly more plausible. I mean one of the initial problems is that the evidence they
show for declining blubber thickness and therefore Minke whales not doing well is quite at odd with
other data they show that show that Minke whales have really high pregnancy rates and they're
reproducing at younger ages than before which shows that they're doing incredibly well.

And we also see that nearly all other krill predators down there are doing very well. So a very
simple interpretation that says there's less krill in eastern Antarctica and that these two species
are competing with one another really is, I mean I guess it's possible, but it's quite a remote
possibility.

FELICITY OGILVIE: You've been studying whales down in Antarctica for more than 20 years now, why do
you think that the blubber mass of these Minke whales may be decreasing by as much as nine per
cent?

NICK GALES: Well if that trend is real and I think it's really important to demonstrate whether
that is a real trend or not then I think trying to understand what's going on is important. And I
think understanding the relationship between whales and the sea ice and any changes that might be
happening and the type of sea ice and the relation to it's environment are important.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Doctor Nick Gales from the Australian Antarctic Division speaking to Felicity
Ogilvie.