By GEORGE GODWIN
FACTORY ships and catcher boats of seventeen whaling expedi- tions will soon be setting forth for the Antarctic. There they will hunt the blue, fin and sperm whale from December 8th until April 7th, the date upon which the hunting season closes. This date was fixed by international agreement embodied in a protocol of November 26th, 1945, following the International Whaling Con- ference in London and its subsequent ratification in Washington in the following year. The quota of 16,000 blue whale units was fixed by the protocol as the limit, to go beyond which would be to endanger the species. (A blue whale unit equals two fin whales or six set whales.) The figure of 16,000 units is not, as has been suggested, an arbitrary figure, but one arrived at after careful. estimates of the whale population trend in Antarctic waters. It was fixed by scientists with the necessary knowledge, and it had, also, the backing of both Norway and our own Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Because of the world's dire need of the products of the whale for new sources of fats and meat, it was recently advocated that the protocol restriction should be suspended. Very little meat is coming to us raw from the Antarctic, perhaps, at most, fifteen to twenty thousand tons ; whereas the oil deliveries are in the neighbourhood of 300o00 tons. Whaling experts, British and Norwegian—and these are the countries chiefly concerned—regard the existing restrictions as essential for the preservation of the species. Indeed, according to a statement made quite recently by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, scientists in this and other countries fear that the present limit of 16,000 blue whale units is too high. Nor is it estimated that the oils and fats position in 1951 will be better than it is now. The issue, one of increasing importance for the world's depleted larder, is simple. The destruction of whale life beyond the fertility rate involves an inevitable progressive depopulation of the hunting-grounds, and, perhaps, as in the case of the " right " or Greenland whale and the humpback of the Antarctic, in virtual extinction. In this matter there is no conflict of interests between man and this great sea mammal. If the whale, obedient to universal law, struggles to survive, the whale-hunters, those cattlemen of the great sea ranges, no less desire to preserve and even to increase the sea herds hunted by them. The fate of the whale, consequently, is a matter of increasing importance in a world of widespread dearth. What, then, are the facts?
During the war there was virtually no whaling, and it was antici- pated that this respite would result in a considerable increase in numbers. This increment did not materialise. On the contrary, both fertility rate and average adult size showed decreases. The official pregnancy figures for the season 1934-5 were 1,476 pregnant females in a total catch of 5,135. Ten years later there were 253 pregnant females (blue whales) in a total catch of 1,224. Similar declines in the fertility rate of the fin whales were recorded ; for the season 1934-5 it was 1,509 pregnant females in a total catch of 4,557, and, a decade later, 800 pregnant females in a total catch of 3,441. Between these two dates the fertility figure showed a decrease varying front 20.7 per cent. to 43.8 per cent. These figures suggest very strongly that what befell in the Arctic is now befalling in the Antarctic, namely, that the decline of the species is being unnecessarily hastened by man Not only is there a known and measurable decrease in fertility, but in quality also. The average size of a mature blue whale in 1931-2 was eighty-four feet ; of a mature fin whale seventy feet. Those figures are reduced today to seventy-eight and sixty-seven feet respectively. There is, then, a known twofold decline—in fertility and in size—so that it may be
said that the decline of the whale population of the Antarctic has already begun ; had, indeed; begun already before the war, when a hundred per cent, increase in the whaling fleets, with improved methods and equipment, produced the altogether disproportionate increase in the catch of only it per cent.
There appears to be no known cause of the failure of the species to make some sort of biological recovery during the respite of the war years. It has been suggested that the whale's staple food, the krill, has been adversely affected by the sinking of oil tankers during the war. In England the " Discovery " Committee and in Norway Det Norske Hvalrad are concerned with this and other problems of whale life in the Antarctic. Writing in these columns before the war, the present writer said: " Quite obviously, any restrictive measures designed to preserve the whale from the extinction which now threatens it must be adhered to by all those taking part in the industry, for complete unanimity is essential if the present destruction of the whales of the world is to be halted." The case for restrictions, irksome as it may be to a hungry world, is over- whelming, and opinion in the best-informed circles is unanimous. To lift the present limit would be to invite the same kind of catastrophe as overtook the cash-croppers of the Albertan prairie. Nature is not robbed with impunity.
But restrictions to be effective must be respected or enforced by- legal sanctions, and unfortunately the Japanese, now again permitted to hunt in the Antarctic whaling grounds, have in the past always ignored them, in the same way as, so long as they were able, they circumvented the restrictions on fishing in the great salmon rivers of the American and British Columbian Pacific seaboards. Mr. F. F. Anderson, Director of Fisheries for Australia, after visiting the whaling fleets last year, reported that the Japanese expedition was detrimental to the industry since, while ignoring regulations made by international agreement, it also operated uneconomically and inefficiently. The Japanese operate their whaling ships with crews of boys and youths, who lack the necessary experience to identify males from females or to judge maturity, and lack, also, the technical knowledge necessary for efficient factory economy. Mr. Anderson quotes the case of the 'Hashidate Maru ' which left Japan for the Antarctic hunting grounds in November last year. There she hunted for seventy-two days, securing a total catch of 490 whales-297 blue, 189 finback, four sperm. From this catch her crew secured an average yield, per blue whale unit, of only 9.57 tons of oil, compared with 19 tons obtained by whalers of other nations.
The Japanese, lacking proper equipment and the essential technical knowledge, are mainly concerned with whale meat, for this has long been a staple article of Japanese diet, and unrestricted whale-hunting in the Japanese Pacific waters has so much reduced the whale stocks there that Japan has been driven to send its whalers to the great Antarctic hunting grounds. Japan had five fleets in the 1938-9 season. They secured 857,625 barrels at a time when the catches of the British and Norwegian expeditions were falling. How, it may be asked, with inferior equipment and lack of technical know- ledge and sound experience, was it done? The answer is: By hunting indiscriminately mature whales and the immature and females with sucklings or calves. Only the experienced whaler knows, from the blow and the dimensions of the whale describing a swift curve as it rises and dives, sex and approximate size. The Japanese methods obviously hasten the decline of the species ; yet experience has shown in this field, as in other branches of industry, the Japanese will neither co-operate nor conform to accepted practice. For these adequate reasons it may well be deplored that Japan has been granted permits to hunt again in the last remaining whale preserve left in the seas of the earth.
To sum up, the preservation of the whale population of the Antarctic is essential for the maintenance of the oil and meat supplies now needed to replenish the world's empty larder. The retention of restrictions, then, is a matter of international concern and interest. Last, the strengthening of legal sanctions against those who disregard, through ignorance or bad faith, international agree- ments designed to preserve the species belongs to the practical problem of restriction enforcement.