Scottish university criticised for supporting Iceland’s cruel whaling programme

Monday, 25 November, 2013
London, UK

The University of Aberdeen is being urged to publicly sever links with Iceland’s whaling programme after its researchers analysed data from whales harpooned in Iceland under the guise of ‘scientific whaling’.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), campaigns for an end to all commercial and so-called scientific whaling because of its inherent cruelty and has met with university representatives to urge them to end the institution’s relationship with Iceland’s whaling industry.

IFAW and other NGOs first contacted the University of Aberdeen after seeing publications on scientific whaling that bore the university’s name*. It was listed as a proponent of scientific whaling in key documents distributed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the body responsible for the regulation of whaling and the conservation of whales. Following letters from IFAW and others, the university asked for the online version of the documents to be changed but the university’s support had already been taken into account in IWC reviews.

Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, said: “The UK has been and should continue to be a world leader in whale conservation. Shockingly, the University of Aberdeen has instead been promoting Iceland’s whaling via its research and this is unacceptable. We have repeatedly asked University officials to stop providing academic cover for the cruel and abhorrent practice of slaughtering whales.”

Despite numerous IWC resolutions calling for an end to the practice, scientific whaling is used by both Iceland and Japan as a way of getting around IWC decisions which limit commercial whaling. It has been widely criticised in academic journals such as Science and Nature and fails to provide critically important data. Such data, which includes for example current abundance estimates, is easily obtained by non-lethal means.

The university’s decision appears to be based on an incorrect assumption that Iceland’s whaling had been supported by the IWC.

Patrick Ramage, Director of IFAW’s Global Whale Programme, said: “Once we politely corrected their version of events, the University of Aberdeen’s argument to us was that since the whales they used were already dead, there was no ethical issue at stake and staff involved did not even refer the issue to their own ethics committee.

“The only usefulness of this research is to mask what is fundamentally a commercial whaling programme. By assisting in this way, the University of Aberdeen sullies itself with slaughtering whales in the name of science and makes further whaling by Iceland, and indeed Japan, more likely.”

The UK is among many countries with a strong stance against commercial and scientific whaling. Australia recently took Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to contest the legality of Japan’s Southern Ocean scientific whaling. Similar legal arguments can be applied to Iceland’s scientific whaling. A judgment on the ICJ case is expected in the coming weeks.


Notes to Editors –

‘Scientific whaling’ is often conducted for commercial purposes but saying it is for scientific purposes allows a country to set a unilateral catch limit regardless of other IWC rules.

From 2003 to 2007, Iceland conducted a ‘scientific whaling’ programme but in 2009, Icelandic representatives said in an IWC Scientific Committee report that analysis had been delayed because they “had not been able to find a qualified scientist”. Iceland was not ready to present any substantial results for review by the IWC until 2013, nearly 10 years since it embarked on the programme.

Japan uses the IWC provisions that allow scientific whaling for all of its whaling activity. Like Iceland, Japan has been seeking support from foreign universities for its scientific whaling. In 2008, the University of St Andrews in Scotland was criticised in a Guardian newspaper article for assisting Japan with analysis of its scientific whaling data.

* Researchers from the University of Aberdeen are co-authors of a paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology, entitled: ‘Minke whales maximise energy storage on their feeding grounds’ (J Exp Biol 216, 427-436).

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook and Twitter..

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