Nick Rahall, Democratic Congressman from Virginia, is taking a stand against William Hogarth, dean of USF’s marine science department. Hogarth was appointed in 2006 by George W. Bush as a delegate on the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986, but the practice has continued in Japan, Iceland and Norway which have succeeded in blocking many efforts by conservationists.
Allegations have circulated that Hogarth has been working closely with the Japanese to end the ban on commercial whaling. Little public information is available to deny or confirm the accusations, but the Washington Post obtained documents detailing a tentative plan to allow “coastal whaling” in return for a promise that Japan reduce its “scientific” whale hunts.
This compromise, though, seems to be rooted in semantics rather than the best interests of whales and has come under heavy fire by scientists and environmentalists. According to a Washington Post article, “Japan has begun taking more whales in recent years under the science designation, killing 872 in 2007, compared with 540 in 1997.”
There is also concern that if Hogarth’s “compromise” passes that it could further endanger coastal whale populations without reducing the whaling that has occurred in Japan for years.
This figure does not include accidental killings of whales as a result of bycatch. According to the Post, in 2007 alone, 156 minke whales were killed unintentionally in Japan, many trapped in commercial fishing lines. South Korea, a nation that has completely ended the practice of intentionally hunting whales, reported 80 accidental minke deaths and 14 killed illegally.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Hogarth maintained his innocence, “I’ve not sold out the U.S. What I’ve done is for the best of the whales and the best of the U.S.”
Though the scientific research conducted by Japan aims to understand feeding processes and environmental effects on whales and is important to developing a better understanding of marine life, the number of whales taken is far too great.
However, allowing Japan and other countries to switch aims from scientific to commercial whaling would undermine their use as important ecological indicators and put a heavier burden on an already threatened species.