A ban on whaling - designed to protect the giants of the sea from humans, it was seen as a significant step forward by scientists and conservationists. But since then it's estimated 40,000 whales have been killed by humans.
Presenter: Elise Kinsella
Speaker: Professor Scott Baker, Associate director Marine Mammal Institue at Oregan State University; Greg Kaufman, president of the Pacific Whale Institute
KINSELLA: At an International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama last week, South Korea shocked the world. It announced its to begin a whaling program. What was less surprising to those involved in this marine issue is the term the South Koreans used to explain their decision, scientific whaling. It's the reason Japan has given for its whaling program, much to the frustration of activists, who say the Japanese are taking advantage of a legal loophole.
So what research has Japan produced from its whaling program?
KAUFMAN: In terms of the science that Japan claims they need to do, really what's happening there is that this is one of the few instances that I know of as a scientist where the subject that you're studying you then turn around and sell to an open meat market, to the public so they can consume it. And that's really what is happening here is that the science that is happening from the dead whales, is really the science of business. And the whales that they kill, particularly the minke whales, they're ending up in the Tokyo fish markets for sale.
KINSELLA: That's Greg Kaufman, the President of the Pacific Whales Foundation and a whale researcher in Hawaii. He says Japan has been reluctant to release any of the data it's collecting.
KAUFMAN: Have they collected DNA samples? Yes. Have they collected stomach samples? Yes. Do they have this information, are they sharing it? No. Are the results coming forward? No. Now this is not like normal release of data. For you, if you were a scientist or for myself to obtain this, we have to go to the International Whaling Commission, we have to at least request access to that information, and then Japan has ultimate veto power on who they're going to let see this information. And to date I have to tell you that they have been, it's been nearly impossible to get this so-called data released for anybody to independently scrutinise.
KINSELLA: Scott Baker is the Associate Director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University. He says there's no need for scientists to kill whales.
BAKER: Non-lethal methods have been shown to be much more powerful for answering almost all of the questions that are of interest to the management of whaling. I see that Korea has brought up an issue of whales eating fish, which is an argument that Japan has also made. But this is I think just kind of a thinly disguised excuse for initial commercial whaling effort.
KINSELLA: Professor Baker says Japan and South Korea need to explain to the international community why they can't research whales without killing them.
BAKER: But really the question that they have to answer from the international perspective is, is the science necessary to improve management of whales? Could it be conducted non-lethally, because that is part of the agreement, and the answer to both of those I think is, no.
KINSELLA: Radio Australia requested an interview with Japan's department of Foreign Affairs for this story. A spokesman declined to speak.