A breakdown in communications

By Alison Motluk IT’S good to talk, but scientists advising the International Whaling Commission and their political masters have only just now got the message. In a rare moment of accord, whaling and anti-whaling nations agreed last week that communication between the IWC and its scientists must be improved. But the two sides have very different motivations. The IWC’s scientific committee consists of about 100 independent researchers. They gather for two weeks every year to work on the science underpinning the commission’s policies. Japan claims that the IWC ignores its scientists, particularly when their work suggests that it might be possible to set quotas for commercial whaling. “The commission ignores their top priorities,” says Masayuki Komatsu, a member of the Japanese delegation. Other delegates argue that the problem lies with the guidance that the scientists are given. The IWC is so deeply divided that it fails to give clear instructions about the science it needs, says Kees Lankester, an adviser to the Dutch delegation. Sidney Holt, a whale biologist based in Italy, argues that whaling nations have exploited this communication vacuum to steer the scientific committee into projects that don’t reflect the interests of most IWC members. This year, one group of scientists began calculating population levels of Bryde’s whales in the north Pacific. The commission never asked for the work to be done,
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