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5 SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE SUPERWHALE T he IWC’s adoption of a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 was a major turning point in the commission’s treatment of scientific uncertainty. By adopting the moratorium, the commission, for the first time in its history, interpreted and used scientific uncertainty as a basis for ceasing all commercial whaling. The IWC’s adoption of the moratorium also effectively established the precautionary principle as its guide in policy making—a sea change in IWC direction that helped set the stage for a period when environmental interests increasingly would dominate commission policy. As discussed in chapters 2, 3, and 4, the treatment of scientific advice and the uncertainties it entailed in the IWC from the 1950s through to the late 1970s was largely determined by how much the advice was seen to assist in the continued exploitation of whale stocks. This standard was initially defined by the need to continue hunting the maximum number of whales and then later, in the 1970s, by the need to limit hunting in order to prevent further depletion of stocks. In this context, uncertainty about the need to catch fewer whales was clearly an important issue, since the costs of reducing catches would have been considerable for both the whaling industries and consumers. Scientific advice urging reductions in the Antarctic quota offered little in the way of utility to the five Antarctic whaling nations in terms of their criterion I priorities (i.e., recouping investment and remaining profitable), and also was in direct conflict with the internationally established criterion II need for more edible fats. As a result, recommendations for lower quotas were questioned, and ultimately rejected, on the grounds of uncertainty. Therefore, it seems likely that any level of uncertainty concerning the 133 SC’s advice, no matter how small, would have been invoked by the whaling countries and their industry representatives in order to avoid the financial repercussions of lower quotas. However, the industry’s decline in the 1960s—caused by the shrinking of both the international demand for whale products and, most importantly, the number of whales—altered the priorities of many IWC members concerning criteria I and II.As a consequence, members also changed their perceptions of the uncertainty that had haunted those scientists calling for reduced catches and better management.1 The goal of keeping the whaling industry operational and able to provide whale products for consumers has continued to the present time. Indeed this still largely shapes the remaining whaling industries’ perceptions and treatment of scientific uncertainty (albeit in an entirely different way). But demand for whale-based products has significantly declined and, as a result, profitable exploitation is no longer a commonly shared objective within the IWC and has not been for some time. From the early 1960s onward, when the number of countries actively participating in commercial hunting began to fall, the economic and financial considerations that had driven IWC policies gradually became less relevant to an increasing number of the commission’s members. This declining relevance led to a proportionately increasing level of commitment among the IWC membership to the views of the IWC scientists. As we have seen, many IWC scientists had been calling for reduced catches for some time, with the notable exceptions of scientists from Japan and Russia where whaling was still being actively pursued on a large scale in both the Antarctic and the North Pacific. Once there were no longer any pressing domestic or economic reasons for governments to question the need for a more conservative approach to management (by raising problems related to uncertainty), it became easier for those members to alter their perception of uncertainty. Instead of using uncertainty to argue against reductions, governments began using it to argue in favor of smaller catches—particularly in light of the mounting indications that many stocks had been heavily overexploited. The rapidly declining catches of the late 1950s and early 1960s, in effect, had encouraged the belief that science aimed at conserving stocks was now very relevant if whales and whaling were to survive. The decline in whaling’s economic importance during the 1960s and in particular its limited cultural relevance among the IWC’s predominately Western membership essentially meant that research arguing in favor of smaller and better regulated hunts was no longer likely to conflict with 134 THE EVOLUTION OF THE SUPERWHALE any already established needs...


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