Letter: Politics and science in the whaling debate

Sir: Apparently the International Whaling Commission, according to Philip Hammond, the resigning chairman of its scientific committee, is 'dominated by an anti-whaling majority' whose reasons for rejecting a Revised Management Procedure were 'nothing to do with science . . . they were political' ('Head of whaling body quits over 'political move' ', 11 June).

What does Dr Hammond expect? That a minority of nations intent on whaling should dominate the commission? IWC scientists believe their computer simulations show that whales can be sustainably harvested, but that is not yet established beyond the confines of that committee, and there is much room for doubt. Would not the adoption of the Procedure have been just as much a political act as its non-adoption? Or does he mean, 'if you agree with us it's science, if you disagree it's politics'?

The Procedure itself is well-nigh impenetrable to outside scientists, and many commissioners do not share its authors' belief in its robustness. While it will nominally protect populations until they recover to 54 per cent of what they were, it could also reduce the one remaining abundant species (minke whale) to unacceptable levels. The science of sustainable yields is simply not advanced enough to take a multi- species approach, and may never be.

There is no doubting the brilliance and dedication of Dr Hammond's team, but they are victims of a political Convention whose remit is too narrowly defined. They may have produced the right answer (that is hard to judge), but the question was wrong in the first place. Norway and Japan should take no comfort from this resignation - whether whaling can be managed sustainably has still to be established beyond the confines of Dr Hammond's select team.




Group of Independent Scientists on

Terrestrial & Marine Ecosystems



14 June