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July 8, 2008

It’s a crime story at sea with (what else?) a red herring. Fish populations are dwindling, and whales are being fingered as the perpetrators. The whales’ accusers are the whaling nations of Japan, Norway, and Iceland—which obviously have a motive to recast whales as menaces. After all, if whales are threatening fish stocks, whaling can be viwed as performing a service by reducing their numbers, particularly for poverty-stricken developing nations.

Coming to the whales’ defense, researchers and members of conservation groups presented evidence to a recent gathering of the International Whaling Commission, debunking the science peddled by the whaling nations. “It is not the whales, it is overfishing and excess fishing capacity that are responsible for diminishing supplies of fish in developing countries,” said one of the researchers for the defense, biologist Dr. Daniel Pauly, director of the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre.

In fact, data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests whales are more apt to feed on krill and on deep-sea squids than on fish consumed by humans. Also, to boost fish stock, a “Review of the State of World Fishery Resources” by the U.N.’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department recommends the fishing industry avoid areas of concentrations of young fish and increase net mesh size and the age of fish at first capture; it says nothing about ridding the seas of voracious whales.

As Pauly noted: “Making whales into scapegoats serves only to benefit wealthy whaling nations while harming developing nations by distracting any debate on the real causes of the declines of their fisheries.”