Ocean Ecosystems and Whaling

Little is known about the ecological consequences of the removal of whales in terms of their past roles as consumers in food chains and as prey and carrion.  The Japanese Government has recently proposed that whales are the culprits behind decreased fish stocks and as a result they should be culled.  The “whales eat fish” issue has become a significant point of contention at recent International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings.  We are examining the scientific evidence for the assertion that commercial fisheries are negatively impacted by whales. Our focus is on three regions where the “whales eat fish” issue has become a political and management issue (vs. where there has been a scientific conclusion that the whales/fish overlap may be an issue). These areas include (1) the Caribbean, (2) the tropical South Pacific and (3) northwestAfrica.   Evidence suggests that these 3 focal areas have experienced a dramatic shift in ecosystem structure as a result of the removal of large whales as well as extensive fishing activities. To understand the impact of whales on current commercial fisheries, it is necessary to understand the extent to which the removal of large whales changed the ecosystems that they occupy. We are studying historical food web structure prior to the advent of whaling and fishing.  Finally, we are examining the extent to which alleged increases in fisheries stocks and whale meat would provide solutions to the problem of world hunger.