Whales are the graceful giants of the seas, they plunge depths unknown to both sunlight and human inquiry. They are the result of natural selection sculpting and streamlining a land-dwelling mammal, and can reach gargantuan sizes thanks to the support of their oceanic domain. It is surprising that the awe generated upon seeing one of these magnificent creatures has not inspired generation upon generation of whale watchers. This, however, is all set to change with the first, of a planned twelve, monthly articles published by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR).
The ICR is a Japan based organisation; it took over from the Whale Research Institute (WRI), which was founded in 1947. The WRI conducted research on whales that were caught as a result of commercial whaling. This showcased two loves of the whaling community, the desire to help people understand the complex populations dynamics involved when a species is driven to extinction and fine whale meat cooking.
Disaster struck for the WRI when, in 1986, the International Whaling Commission deemed their scientific endeavor to be illegal and a subsequent ban was placed upon Japan. However, the human spirit is not easily overcome by red-tape and bureaucracy and the ICR rose from the blubbery ashes of the WRI. The ICR is remarkably self-sufficient: each analysed whale is sold onto private investors. These investors come from industries as diverse as supermarkets, food packaging and restaurants.
The first paper published details methods in which the whales are collected. One such technique allows for more accurate sampling of whales. The device known as the Special Pod Engager And Retriever (SPEAR) is able to “tag” a single whale with a red and silver identification marker allowing for accompanying scientists to help with the sampling. Multiple SPEARs can be used on a single specimen, with each aiding in its analysis.
Members of the British scientific community have released criticisms over the originality of the research. Victoria Rising, an ecologist, has stated “this research into population decline of endogenous species is just a re-hashing of what Britain did with wolves centuries ago… our theories were further confirmed with the American study involving Bison.”
Members of the pro-ICR camp suggest that this criticism is “cultural imperialism” masquerading as scientific concern. A reply has accordingly been issued from the ICR, who ask “Who are Britain, or the West, to decide what “good” scientific inquiry is? Besides, Britain had their chance with wolves but they squandered it. They wiped them out before good scientific practice had been established.”
Despite the harsh storm of adversaries and criticism, the ICR continues on their noble journey of life-affirming scientific discovery. Although their scientific strides are great and many, there is a sense of humility about the organisation. The first article begins with a simple declaration:
“If I have seen further it is only because I stand on the corpses of giants.”