Saturday, February 14, 2009

Endangered Minke whales.

You know.... if you say the Southern Minke is endangered, then perhaps you are right. If you say the Southern Minke is not endangered then perhaps you are right.

The point is that we do not know if the population is crashing, stable or increasing. Most of the data seems to point towards a very dramatic decline. Can it be possible that even the worlds most common whale will be extinct in 66 years! The rate of decline suggests it will be.

The situation as it stands is that Southern Minke are Data deficient!

Japanese whalers killing every whale they see is not going to improve this situation either. We need population trend data, not a butchers list of protected animals that have been served up in Japanese diners.

If we look at the authority on endangered animals we find the Minkes future is far from sure.

Here is a picture of Minke population estimates.

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient
The data analyzed by standard methods suggest a reduction of approximately 60% between the 1978–91 period and the 1991–2004 period. However, alternative hypotheses to explain the apparent decline are still under investigation. If the decline is real, its extent and causes are currently unknown, and it may still be continuing. The corresponding population reduction thresholds (criterion A2) are 30% for Vulnerable and 50% for Endangered, measured over a 3-generation time window, which in this case is estimated to be approximately 66 years (22 years per generation). If the decline proves to be largely or mainly an artifact, or proves to have been transient in the light of analyses of more recent data, the species would qualify as Least Concern. If it were real, the species would qualify as Endangered. Pending resolution of the uncertainties relating to the apparent decline, however, the species is listed as Data Deficient (DD).

The IWC discussed this in 2007. The decline was specific to minke whales; estimates for other species (blue, fin, killer, humpback) increased over the period; an explanation for the decline would need to account for this.

I'd like to add that ~ comparing declines caused by harvest followed by recovery from harvest controls to declines from loss of habitat and climate warming are apples and oranges. Whales surviving past threats is different to them surviving the future ones they face.

While genetics has revealed a stable Minke population for the last million years or so, the threats that now face Minke are going to be the largest they have ever faced before. Both of these threats revolve around the krill.

Talley’s claim Japan should be allowed to hunt whales because they were doing it sustainably is sadly misinformed. There is no evidence for the alleged “sustainability” of Japanese whaling. In fact, despite Japan’s insistence that there are plenty of whales given the Southern Hemisphere minke whale population numbers over 760,000 animals, these figures have been discredited by scientists and withdrawn by the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee. Research has shown that minke numbers are closer to 250,000 – less than a third of those claimed – and the IWC has repeatedly called for Japan to end its hunt. Furthermore, scientific research has shown that the minke whale population is further subdivided into three separate species, and then into local and regional populations with little inter-migration between them. This means even a very small kill could result in localised extinction in a particular area. Japan’s plans to expand its kill to include species classified as endangered and vulnerable makes a mockery of any claims of sustainability.
Past commercial whaling was characterised by a serial depletion of one whale stock after another, and massive illegal and unreported kills of over 90,000 whales which drove many of the larger species to the verge of extinction. Despite over forty years of protection, Southern Hemisphere Blue whales still number as few as 400 animals, and may never recover. As Muller points out, “We have only to consider the lessons of history to see whaling is not sustainable – particularly when “managed” by the industry responsible for exploiting it.”
Source for above quote.

So what about this population explosion of Minke that the Japanese like to claim?

The DNA from minke samples shows such genetic diversity that the Antarctic population must have been extensive for the past 200,000 years, says a Stanford Universityresearcher. That long history challenges the view of some whaling advocates that the 8-meter-long minkes used to be rare in Antarctica but flourished as other whales dwindled. This boom supposedly keeps populations of bigger, competing whales from growing.

The shape of the Antarctic-minke tree indicates "a couple of bumps and troughs", but "no real booms and busts," says Palumbi. For the recent part of its million-year history, the minke whale population has numbered between 500,000 and 1 million. ~ source

So there is no surge in Minke numbers. Rather we have a species that appears to be in VERY rapid decline. They are not roaches or weeds to be pulled. Considering the Japanese practise of killing the pregnant females, combined with the loss of fertility due to brucella infections, and the loss of their krill food source to climate change..... and we have the perfect scenario for the worlds most common whale to be made extinct by Japan.

This is unacceptable, and while we may not be able to clean all the plastic from the ocean, or stop climate change, WE CAN end whaling BEFORE the Southern Minke is pushed to the edge of extinction as the J-stock Minke around Japan already have been!

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