Whale Quotas and Sea Shepherd

We sparked a good debate over the effectiveness of direct action conservation movements over at the post “Is Sea Shepherd really saving whales?” One of the most difficult questions raised was if Sea Shepherd wasn’t there, would the Japanese make their full quota? The data presented in that post was inconclusive, because the quota increase corresponded to the beginning of SSCS’s Southern Ocean campaign, so we have no time period in which the Japanese quota was increased while Sea Shepherd was absent.

Remember this graph:

Japan Quotas and Catches

In which we see that more whales were killed after Sea Shepherd entered the Southern Ocean, but the the Japanese whaling fleet was unable to reach quota.

In order to determine whether SSCS is having an effect, we need data from whaling programs from the same time period, but without SSCS presence. As it happens, we have data from both Iceland and Norway. Iceland and Norway both have commercial whaling programs, both have preset quotas, and neither have experienced Sea Shepherd interference in the last decade.

Iceland Quotas and Catches

Here we see Iceland’s whale catches and quotas. Despite one year when the quota was reduced to 50 whales,at no point after 2002 did Iceland reach even half their quota.

Norway Catches and Quotas

Norway tells a slightly different story. We can see from this graph that whale catches actually decline as the quotas increase.

What these data together tell us is that whale catches are moderated neither by the quotas set (up to a point) nor the presence of direct action protest groups, but more likely by the distribution and abundance of the whales being hunted. Which begs the question: If direct action is ineffective in achieving it’s goals, and may in fact promote the continuation of the very systems they’re trying to dismantle, why should we continue to support them? And, more importantly, why shouldn’t we make the public aware that these media savvy organizations aren’t getting the job done? Results matter.

~Southern Fried Scientist

On a related note, check out this report from the failed IWC meeting:

  1. Iceland and Norway do get direct action, more direct even that against the Japanese. I don’t know the numbers, but Icelandic and Norwegian whaling ships are regularly get sent to were they belong… the bottom of the harbor.
    Agenda 41 is just one of these “organisations”.

    While the corrupt IWC makes deals behind closed doors, and goverments fail to do anything, direct and indirect activist groups are the only ones making a difference… how small it may be. Every whale counts.

    • Seriously? Agenda 41? That’s even an answer?

      Come on, are you serious, or just another masterbating conservation monkey with serious delusions of “takin’ it to the streets” like SSCS?

      Except when things get hot for SSCS like the recent tuna campaign in the Med they tuck tail and run from Libya’s navy.

      http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100620/local/fishermen-activists-clash-again-as-tuna-war-hots-up

      Or when one of their members get’s jailed in Japan for drinking Watsons salty brand of Konservation Kool-Aid they cut him off claiming he was too violent.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/08/sea-shepherd-expels-peter-bethune

      The guys here at SFS are being serious with their look at the effectiveness of the whale movement lead at the moment by SSCS, and as you point out Agenda Hand Wank 33 and one half.

      If you’re going to post here leave the Agenda crap at home with the rest of your shardy World of Warcraft lifestyle and bring in some hard data.

      Some of us would like to see changes happen.The first step is to examine why we are failing so badly right now so whales might be actually saved in the future.

    • I’m not exactly sure how pointing out that there are direct action movements in Norway translates into “drinking the conservation kool-aid”.

      Also, you don’t set the rules for who gets to post here.

  2. The ICR does say that their cruise was interrupted prematurely due to SS ships. For the 09-10 season, they received obstruction for 31 days. No idea if the backlash is worth it though. I’ve kept track of whaling opinion in Japan, and it’s very rare to see approval of SS even from people that are either anti- or apathetic to whaling.

  3. “Norway announced an increased quota of minke whales so we decided to increase our quota of sunken whalers” – AGENDA 21

    1979 – the whaler Sierra rammed and sunk in Portugal;
    1980 – the whalers Isba I and Isba II sunk in Vigo, Spain;
    1980 – the whalers Susan and Theresa sunk in South Africa;
    1986 – the whalers Hvalur 6 and Hvalur 7 sunk in Iceland;
    1992 – the whaler Nybraena sunk in Norway;
    1994 – the whaler Senet sunk in Norway;
    1996 – the whaler Elin-Toril sunk in Norway;
    1998 – the whaler Morild sunk in Norway;
    2007 – the whaler Williassen Senior sunk in Norway;
    2009 – the whaler Skarbakk in Norway.

    • Very interesting. That probably accounts for a lot of the decline we see in Norway around 2005, but is this a permanent solution?

      Is Norway building/acquiring new ships or once they’re sunk are they not replaced?

  4. “The group sunk The Willassen Senior in August 2007 exceeding £2 million pounds in damage, successfully ending the whaling vessel’s career within two months”

    If the sollution is permanent i do not know, but it must have some effect. I think that whaling in Norway is not goverment funded like in Japan, so if a ship gets sunk it is a insurance job.
    The scale is hard to compaire with the Japanese, even the ships are not as advanced. You could claim that whaling by Iceland and Norway is “fishing”, whaling by Japan is a “industry”. Either way, they are slaughtering an inteligent and endangered species. Like i said, every whale counts.

    • See, that’s part of my problem. With Japan, whaling is government funded, so it’s hard to use economic pressure to either support or oppose whaling.

      However, in Norway, if someone has the capital to build a $3+ million dollar vessel, then they have the capital to lobby the government, i.e. “look, we have this capacity and we’re building the economy, if you shut us down now we’ll lose this investment”, so from a long-term strategy, it makes more sense to keep the old vessels that are slowly depreciating in value than to bring new vessels, with new loans, and fresh investments into the game.

      Whaling is about Politics, Nationalism, and Economics, in the order. Direct action organizations go after economics and rallies politics and nationalism against them.

    • “because whales provide an essential ecosystem function and cannot be hunted sustainably in any commercial or industrial scenario.”

      How about, “because they are sentient beings with an interest in their own lives, just like cows, dogs or people.”

      I agree with the racism that some people have mentioned. Some activists focus on Japanese whaling because it’s easier to demonize Japanese people than Norwegian people. But not all anti-whaling activists are racist.

    • Nor are they all intelligent, but that’s not the point. Whaling should be opposed not because there’s not that many whales left or because they’re ‘special, magical, or intelligent’, but rather because whales provide an essential ecosystem function and cannot be hunted sustainably in any commercial or industrial scenario.

  5. “Not all whales are endangered.”

    You science guys should like this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mOgjhP5arc

    “Whaling is about Politics, Nationalism, and Economics, in the order. Direct action organizations go after economics and rallies politics and nationalism against them.”

    Politics, IWC, is corrupt. So you can’t win that way.
    Nationalism, Japan has a very strong feeling for culture. There are signs of change in the youth, but the old are to hung up on tradition.
    Economics are the only thing you can attack, and direct action costs Japanese whaling millions in profits and that number is rising every year.

    • We did a review of Palumbi’s work a while ago: The Krill Surplus Hypothesis and the Power of Data. Palumbi’s approach has had far more influence on international, national, and local politics in Japan than Sea Shepherd’s.

      Remember, the IWC is not a conservation organization, it’s goal is not to protect whales, it’s goal is to protect whaling. It was through back-door politics, loopholes, and corruption that the International Whaling Moratorium was passed in the first place.

    • “alumbi’s approach has had far more influence on international, national, and local politics in Japan than Sea Shepherd’s.”
      As much as i love his work and the effect it has had… how many whales has it saved and has it gotten us any closer to a whaling ban?

    • The closest we’ve been to a whaling ban was in 1986 with the moratorium. Since then it’s been a slow but consistent drift back towards outright commercial whaling. The blowout at last week’s IWC meeting pretty much guaranteed whaling will continue for the foreseeable future. So I guess you could say no one is getting results.

      But Palumbi’s work has staying power. When the IWC revisits whaling next year, his work will be revisited and built upon. Boats can be rebuilt, but an offense build on the foundation of real data can endure. Small steps forward are infuriatingly slow and seemingly insubstantial, but they build up in ways that direct action does not.

      Have you seen his latest talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/stephen_palumbi_following_the_mercury_trail.html

  6. “Nor are they all intelligent, but that’s not the point. Whaling should be opposed not because there’s not that many whales left or because they’re ‘special, magical, or intelligent’, but rather because whales provide an essential ecosystem function and cannot be hunted sustainably in any commercial or industrial scenario.”

    I love this.

    • I do what I can. If all we had to do was convince people who valued whales for being whales that whales are important, we’d have an easy job. Unfortunately, it’s people who don’t see an inherent value to whales existing that we have to win over.

      If you already value whales, than Sea Shepherd seems righteous and just, but if you don’t really care much for them, than Sea Shepherd seems reckless, violent, and racist.

  7. Above, the following ships were claimed to be sunk:

    1992 – the whaler Nybraena sunk in Norway;
    1994 – the whaler Senet sunk in Norway;
    1996 – the whaler Elin-Toril sunk in Norway;
    1998 – the whaler Morild sunk in Norway;
    2007 – the whaler Williassen Senior sunk in Norway;
    2009 – the whaler Skarbakk in Norway.

    Being Norwegian, I did a quick search in Norwegian media. It turns ut only two ships actually sunk (Morild and Willassen). In one of these two cases, police investigation ruled out sabotage, in spite of Sea Sheperd taking responsibility. The rest were reported as ‘attempts’, meaning that the ships were probably somehow rescued and possibly even returned to hunting.

    My guess is that the market’s fallen out of Norwegian whaling. There is whale meat available, but the meat (like liver) has gone out of fashion. When I grew up, people ate whale meat because it was cheap and had a very high content of iron. It was considered accessible and healthy, but most people liked it about as much as they liked liver. Since it was off the market for years, people are not accustomed to using it any more. Nowaday it’s rare, expensive, and only old people remember how to cook it. As suggested above, I find t hard to believe that people will invest in new whalers in the future.

    Being trained as a marine biologist, I know that all whales are not endangered. However, the last estimates I saw for minke whales (based on transects) had disturbingly wide confidence intervals, and I still think not enough is known about reproduction rates and reproduction habits to know how much pone could safely harvest of extremely K-selecteds species.

    Then comes other issues, like the intelligence of whales (but what about other mammals, then?), sentiment, and not least, adhering to international regulations. Norway is frequently trying to get other nations to ratify agreements on environmental issues, thus we should start by keeping our own path clean. All in all, I’d be quite happy if Norwegian whaling just went died a natural death…

  8. “If you already value whales, than Sea Shepherd seems righteous and just, but if you don’t really care much for them, than Sea Shepherd seems reckless, violent, and racist.”

    In my opionion the biggest mistake SSCS makes is saying that they are not violent. F*** yeah they are.
    What they should do is say “Japan comes down here to a whale sancuary using a scientific research loophole to poach whales. So we rammed the crap out of them. If you don’t agree with that, we don’t care. We are not tree hugging hippies.”

    But then again i already value whales from a biological as well as a emotional point of view. So any action, violent or not, is righteos and just in my eyes. A few years ago no one even knew Japan kills whales, now more people know about it than ever. And yes SSCS likes the attention, good and bad. But i still think with every 1 person that is pro-whaling there are 3 against, and SSCS has a lot to do with that.

  9. Your data doesn’t account for differences in hunting and tracking methods. That could be the difference between the different whaling fleets’ “success” in reaching their quotas.

  10. I think what you guys are missing is what effect are the commercial animal protest industry is having on Environmentalism more widely.

    Fact is the whole “Save the Whales” scam is an entirely unnecessary waste of resources and good will. A Seventies old media leftover that makes too much cash for anyone to turn their backs on.

    Seriously, what’s wrong with some minority food cultures nibbling on some whales?

    How many times do I have to read on the bottom of one page (if at all) that scientific recommendations for lower fish quotas go ignored by governments and conservation groups alike while pages, books and millions of hours of video go toward the simple demonization of minorities for what they eat.

    The amount of racism, vitriol and lunacy embedded in the save the whales rhetoric is blindingly clear next to the tameness of tone attached to the exploitation of fish stocks.
    It’s so much easier to wind people up about what other cultures eat rather than what the western middle classes put on their plate.

    What a total waste of thirty years!

    All sorts of interests are lining up to make a mess of the (sorta) pristine marine environment where I live. The impoverished locals could do with some folks who care to help keep them at bay. Too bad the yuppies are too preoccupied with what we eat and turning Environmentalism into a bundle of western middle class prejudice and projection.

    Not seeking to be combative here folks. I enjoy the blog and return often. The fact that after thirty years there’s finally some questioning of the worth of groups like the Sea Sheep is uplifting but ultimately will be a dead-end IMHO unless you look up a little more and start looking at the wider implications of what the Sea Sheep AND THEIR ILK represent and is doing to undermine our ability to work together.
    The Sea Sheep are an old media formula. Today we have the ability to share and cooperate on a scale never before imagined.

    Why are we wasting time waging petty cultural wars while we’re lead by the nose by the ringmasters of the western animal rights industry?

    • The culture of ethnic supremacy in relation to whaling is allowed to persist because it’s an excellent demonstration of energy and enthusiasm that no one can figure out how to harness and put toward larger but less personable problems.

      The other thing is that there are still plenty of species of whales that are endangered, and some of the ones that aren’t are still really close. It’s like the state of gray wolves in my state. Recently they’ve been declared not endangered any more. You know how many wolves there are in my state now? 650-720. Apparently that’s considered not endangered, and now people in my state can and are hunting them. It doesn’t make much sense.

    • I think the key here is that there’s a huge difference in local, small scale, indigenous whaling (and even some of the large scale enterprises like in the Faroes) and full on commercial/industrial whaling.

      The biggest difference being the cost. Industrial whaling is expensive, hugely expensive. The cost of maintaining a fleet for a large industrial operation is huge, which means that every year you don’t harvest the maximum amount of whales (not the maximum sustainable amount, but the maximum you’re able to catch) you lose money. There’s an inflection point after which maintaining a sustainable harvest has less realized profit than you would have made if you simply took every whale in the ocean, sold your ships, and reinvested that profit somewhere else. Sustainble whaling is a bad business strategy.

      Which is why I’m opposed to all commercial whaling ventures. The economic pressure to push the limits is too great, leading to population collapse. We’ve already seen it happen to the big whales. If you read the whaling literature the whalers knew that the numbers were falling and that whales weren’t infinite.

      With very few exceptions these same economic pressures don’t apply to local indigenous whaling. And of course, the situation is totally different for scenarios like the Canadian Harp seal, which is one of the many reasons “marine mammals” shouldn’t be treated as a single entity.

  11. Have to agree with Radical O, although the way I see conservation in general is via the lens of far too many people on the planet (huge topic for another day).

    The number of “save the” campaigns amounts to a street sweeper at the end of an elephant parade, and we’re the elephants.

    Not saying we should not try. Just saying we could be smarter about it. SSCS does 99% of it’s “save the whales” stchick via a reality television show that ironically promotes the sales of SUV’s, harmful chemicals, and western lifestyle choices that destroy the planet.

    An irony no one in that movement mentions.

    Yet I notice it as a glaring disconnect. We want to “save the whales” but we also want you have to watch 3 million dollars worth of advertising every 10 minutes that promotes the degradation of the planet.

    Where did the movement go wrong?

  12. I was wondering if you had anything to say about the latest whale hunt being called off early and the ships returning to Japan. The Japanese media seems to being saying it is a direct reaction to harassment by the SSCS. Im still waiting for the final kill count and to see what happens later in the season or next season but so far it appears that harassment and intervention may have worked, at least temporarily.