Coastal whales threatened by ‘bycatch whaling’

June 24th, 2009 - 4:35 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 24 (ANI): In a new study, scientists have warned that a new form of unregulated whaling, called ‘bycatch’, is becoming a growing threat to whales along the coastlines of Japan and South Korea.

According to Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, DNA analysis of whale-meat products sold in Japanese markets suggests that the number of whales actually killed through this “bycatch whaling” may be equal to that killed through Japan’s scientific whaling program - about 150 annually from each source.

The study, by Baker, a cetacean expert, and Vimoksalehi Lukoscheck of the University of California-Irvine, found that nearly 46 percent of the minke whale products they examined in Japanese markets originated from a coastal population, which has distinct genetic characteristics, and is protected by international agreements.

Their conclusion was that as many as 150 whales came from the coastal population through commercial bycatch whaling, and another 150 were taken from an open ocean population through Japan’s scientific whaling.

“In some past years, Japan only reported about 19 minke whales killed through bycatch, though that number has increased recently as new regulations governing commercial bycatch have been adopted,” Baker said.

Japan is now seeking International Whaling Commission (IWC) agreement to initiate a small coastal whaling program, a proposal which Baker said should be scrutinized carefully because of the uncertainty of the actual catch and the need to determine appropriate population counts to sustain the distinct stocks.

Whales are occasionally killed in entanglements with fishing nets and the deaths of large whales are reported by most member nations of the IWC.

Japan and South Korea are the only countries that allow the commercial sale of products killed as “incidental bycatch.”

“The sheer number of whales represented by whale-meat products on the market suggests that both countries have an inordinate amount of bycatch,” Baker said.

“The sale of bycatch alone supports a lucrative trade in whale meat at markets in some Korean coastal cities, where the wholesale price of an adult minke whale can reach as high as 100,000 dollars,” he added.

“Given these financial incentives, you have to wonder how many of these whales are, in fact, killed intentionally,” he pondered. (ANI)

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