Study of Humpback Whales in Japanese Waters
WWF Japan supported a survey of humpback whales in Japanese waters from 1988 to 1995. The survey was initiated by a Canadian scientist, Dr.James Darling, with help of Japanese volunteers. He used a method to identify animals by photo identification. Shapes and pattern of flukes of each humpback whale is different like human's finger prints. The purposes were to study status of the species in Northwestern Pacific Ocean and to introduce the method to Japan.
Humpback whales was heavily exploited by whaling, and hunting has been banned in the North Pacific since 1966. By late 1980s the survey of the species was well advanced in the North Atlantic and eastern Pacific (Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico) by photo identification. However, the status in the NW Pacific remained unknown.
The survey turned very successful due to efforts by Dr. Darling,Japanese researchers (Dr. Kyoichi Mori, then a graduate student of Tokai University, Mr. Hiroyuki Suganuma, Mr. Fumihiko Sato, Miss Manami Yamaguchi of Ogasawara Marine Center) and Mr. Yukifumi Miyamura, volunteer in Zamami, Okinawa. The survey found out that Ogasawara and Kerama (Okinawa) waters are important breeding area in the NW Pacific, that there is a mixing between two waters, and that the same animals was identified in Hawaii and Ogasawara in different years. It also greatly contributed to start of Japanese whale watching. The results of the survey was largely publicized by the press and the survey is credited to have raised people's interest in live whales in Japan. This survey is still continued by Ogasawara Marine Center and the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association.
Overexploitation of large whales which lasted until mid 1980s ignited anti-whaling movement which made the whaling issue as a symbol of environmental problems. From early 1970s public opinion supporting anti-whaling started growing. Anti-whaling parties eventually outnumbered pro-whaling parties within the IWC which made it possible to take conservation measures such as reduction of catch quote, increase of protected species, the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary (1979), the moratorium of commercial whaling (1982), and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary (1994). As a results, now some species are recognized to recover.
WWF Japan desires that enough precautionary approaches are taken to cope with changes in marine environment like marine pollution, and poaching of rare species. It is expected that threats of whaling would be considerably reduced if the Revised Management Schedule (RMS) which is being prepared by the IWC is implemented. However, marine mammals like cetaceans eat massive volume of zooplankton and fish for a long period, they lack capability to dissolve pollutants like PCB, there is a report showing increase in UV caused by ozone hole is decreasing phytoplankton which is decreasing krills in the Southern Ocean, it is not totally denied that meat of rare species like blue whale and right whale would be circulated in the market with ordinary meat. These are the reasons why WWF Japan desires precautionary approaches.