Study suggests Japan falsified whale hunting data during the 1960s

A whale is seen lying on a Japanese research whaling ship on the northwestern Pacific Ocean in this picture taken August 1, 2000. Japanese whaling fleets are accused of falsifying catch and kill records during the late 1960s, according to a recently published study. Photo by STR New/Reuters

Japanese commercial whale fleets are accused of altering their records in the late 1960s, according to a study published recently in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

NOAA scientists Yulia Ivashchenko and Phillip J. Clapham are questioning the credibility of the recorded sizes of female sperm whales killed by Japanese fleets in the open waters of the North Pacific Ocean between 1968 and 1969. The reports were submitted by the Japanese to the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

"Japanese whalers were already known to have falsified catch data for sperm whales and other species killed by land-based whaling stations," Ivashchenko said in a statement, "but while there were suspicions that the same practice was going on in the pelagic fleets, no one had previously been able to show this."

The fluke of a sperm whale sticks out of the sea as it dives among other resting whales off the coast of Sri Lanka in 2013. A study published recently claims that Japanese whalers manipulated sperm whale catch data in the late 1960s. Photo by David Loh/Reuters

That was until the wife-and-husband team looked more closely at Soviet records documenting the lengths of sperm whales killed by USSR fleets operating simultaneously in the North Pacific. At the time, whalers were prohibited from killing sperm whales – highly sought after for their oil, which could be used as a high-grade industrial lubricant – less than 38 feet long.

The pair found that between 1968 and 1969, Japanese whaling fleets recorded killing up to nine times as many legal-sized females as the Soviets. And during part of August 1969 in particular, Japan claimed to have killed 30 times more legal-sized females than a Soviet fleet operating in the same area, at the same time.

"This is clearly impossible, and indicates systematic falsification of the data to cover up extensive catches of under-sized whales," Ivashchenko told PBS NewsHour.

The two contend that the Japanese whale hunters were taking in large numbers of illegal-sized whales and faking their lengths.

For decades, the Soviet Union falsified its own catch records. It wasn't until the collapse of the USSR that the truth about Soviet whaling came to light. As part of her PhD work, Ivashchenko helped to correct Soviet whaling data by using the formerly secret records.

Ivashchenko and Clapham's study findings come less than a week after Japan confirmed that it will resume whaling in the Antarctic for scientific purposes, according to the Guardian. Last year, the UN's International Court of Justice ruled that Japan had to halt whaling in the region.

Although the IWC began a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, an exception in the organization's convention allows for the catching and killing of medium and large-sized whales for scientific research.

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