Japanese study says loss of fat in whales may be result of climate change
Japan, the country that has killed thousands of whales in the name of research are now speaking out about their findings from the dead whales' research, which many say is just commercial whaling by another name.
Now, Japan's scientists claim their controversial whaling programme has produced a key finding. Measurements taken from more than 4,500 minke whales slaughtered since the late 1980s reveal the animals have lost significant amounts of blubber, and are getting thinner at a worrying speed. The team says its study offers the first evidence that global warming could be harming whales, because it restricts their food supplies. And they say the discovery could only have been made by killing the animals.
Crucially for the Japanese, the results have been published in a mainstream western scientific journal – a move that has dismayed campaigners, who say it could offer scientific whaling a veneer of respectability, and bolster Japan's efforts to hunt more whales.
They fear Japan could use the results to support efforts to hunt endangered humpback whales for the first time in 50 years. The study claims the recovering humpback population in the Southern Ocean could also be hurting the minkes because of "interference" between the two species as they compete for food.
Whales of course, need blubber to survive as it creates energy and gives them protection against the cold water. It could already be making it more difficult for the whales to reproduce, which is already having an effect on the population.
The findings are unpopular among nations who oppose whaling, as it could mean a shift to lift the ban against whaling being lifted.
This is not the first time that the Japanese scientific whaling programme has published results, but these are the most high-profile findings so far. In 2005, Australian scientists analysed the 55 scientific papers produced by the programme and said only a handful were relevant and required the whales to have been killed. The others included descriptions of bizarre experiments to cross-fertilise whales with sheep and cows.
The new study analysed measurements taken from 4,689 adult whales killed by the Japanese whaling fleet between 1988 and 2005. It found that blubber thickness and overall fat weight had decreased by 9% over the period, which it called a 'substantial decline". Girth of the animals was down 4%. The study says: "This is the first time a long-term decline in energy storage in minke whales has been demonstrated."
The question is whether the benefits of the data collected from these dead whales outweighs the lives lost of the thousands of whales used in this study.