January 30, 2005 — Ocean sanctuaries are
unlikely to fully protect whales, say three independent scientists
charged by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) with reviewing
their sanctuary program to manage whale populations.
In a Policy Forum article forthcoming in the January 28 issue of the
journal Science, Arizona State University marine biologist Leah Gerber,
Duke University marine biologist K. David Hyrenbach, and University of
Victoria geographer Mark Zacharias argue that the current sanctuary
plan is not scientifically sound because it does not sufficiently
consider the migratory behavior of most whale species, does not factor
in threats to whales besides whaling, and would be difficult to
evaluate once implemented.
"The scientific basis for the sanctuary program is not really valid," said Gerber.
"The sanctuaries are arbitrary in their boundaries because they were
designed largely based on political considerations rather than by
scientific criteria. Our analysis shows that the science-based
harvesting plan known as the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) would
be much more effective in encouraging growth of whale populations."
Models developed by the group show that the RMP would likely result
in significant increases in whale populations over a hundred years,
regardless of whale behavior. If whales are largely not migratory in
their behavior, then the sanctuary plan would work as well or better,
but if at least 50 percent of a given population migrates, then the
sanctuary plan would be significantly less effective. If most whales
are migratory, then virtually no growth would occur in whale
populations under the sanctuary plan.
The sanctuaries designated by the IWC are four large areas in the
South Atlantic, South Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans. While the
areas are large, the scientists believe that the whales that the
sanctuaries are meant to protect also spend part of the year in areas
where they would be vulnerable to capture by whalers.
"There is a growing body of literature on marine reserves and
empirical evidence about the effects of reserves from around the world.
There is a general consensus among scientists that these are a really
useful approach to conserve endangered species and to recover
over-exploited populations. More recent research suggests cases in
which they are or are not effective," said Gerber. "If we are going to
create these sanctuaries, let’s use some data about the distribution
and habitat requirements for these species to identify their potential
The article proposes that a refined program of whale conservation
that uses both the RMP and a sanctuary plan "designed to protect
populations of whales during certain time periods or throughout their
entire ranges" would be the most effective approach to maintaining and
building populations once commercial whaling starts again. The
scientists also propose that "scientific permit whaling" be terminated,
since the practice effectively amounts to unregulated whaling and is
thus counter-productive to whale conservation.
"We really can’t establish an ecological baseline for whales if
there are no untouched populations. And without this science, there is
no way to really effectively manage whales and whaling," Gerber said.
Source : Arizona State University