Fin Whales Face Iceland’s Harpoons Once More: Creative Math Yields Goofy Graphs

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The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recently issued a press release which warns that Iceland plans to slaughter endangered whales this summer:

The Icelandic newspaper Skessuhorn reported yesterday that it had “reliable evidence” fin whaling will begin again, after being shut down last summer due to the impacts of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Although Kristján Loftsson, director of Hvalur, would not confirm, the paper claimed it had evidence that whaling will begin in June and is likely to last for three months.
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) are urging European and US leaders to take strong diplomatic actions to end Iceland’s continued and expanding whaling.
Clare Perry, EIA senior campaigner, said: “Iceland has exported almost 2,000 tonnes of whale meat to Japan in recent years. The Icelandic whaling company Hvalur is deliberately growing an export market for an endangered species which is protected by two international agreements to which Iceland is signatory. We are calling on the EU and US to take urgent steps to end this rogue whaling.”

It is shortsighted for Iceland to take this stance, since the profitability of selling the meat (contaminated with pollutants often in excess of safe standards), is not sustainable…but of course that is not the whole story, and direct profit from whale slaughter may not even been their primary reason for killing the whales.  Simply put, whales and dolphins are seen as competitors for fish by the fishing industries of these countries, and they rely on some fairly creative figures to justify their position.
These days, any theoretical paper you read on the subject of fisheries involves mind boggling mathematics and complex computer models – yet even so, in the final analysis, the models often fall short of being an accurate representation of what is going on below the ocean surface, and when it comes to apex predators such as whales, the results can be disastrous if the figures are used to calculate how many can be slaughtered.
The problem with this type of approach is that is a top down strategy – starting with the top predators and working down the food chain to plankton – but the ocean is a bottom up system, and biologically it is driven by the biomass of plankton.  So much so that biological oceanography gives little more than a nod to anything higher up the food chain than krill.  But most of the basic fisheries models don’t include the whole life cycle loop, and for good reason – it adds too much complexity.
Yet the island countries of Iceland and Japan put considerable resources into trying to figure out just how many fish the cetaceans (whales and dolphins) consume. Based on theoretical numbers, they use these models to decide how many whales and dolphins to kill in order to conserve their lucrative fish industries (both countries enjoy a high standard of living), and they base the concept on some fairly contorted theorizing.
In this first graph, it looks like they tied a knot to make the data fit (*see below for source information):
And this one shows how you take four possible scenarios and stuff them in a sock to force data to fit:
From those numbers they come up with something like this, which seems to show that without the competition from marine mammals there would be a couple hundred thousand tons more fish for the fisheries industry:

The dashed line is the theoretical amount of catch without cetaceans (solid line), timeline should read 1993 to 2023.

But all of these mental gymnastics miss the point:  prior to the 19th century – when humans began commercial whaling in earnest – the oceans were teeming with fish.  The oceans were a system in balance, but with the development of technology humans reached farther and deeper into the seas, causing the collapse of fish (such as cod) as well as cetacean populations.  In other words, there were more fish when there were more whales.
The reason that it will never add up to take out other top predators and substitute our nets is that we remove the fish entirely from the system, interrupting the natural cycle and ignoring the feedback mechanisms that strike a balance in nature. Natural predators leave waste, and eventually their own bodies, to help fuel the system.

And we don’t know what the heck we are doing.  Please sign the petition to help put an end to Icelandic whaling.
*Reference for the graphs:  On Dynamic Interactions Between Some Fish Resources and Cetaceans off Iceland Based on a Simulation Model)

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