Carcass of critically endangered whale found in fishing gear off Japan’s coast

01 February 2007 | International news release

A critically endangered Western Pacific Gray Whale (Western Gray Whale) has recently died off the Pacific coast of Japan after becoming trapped in fishing gear.

This is the fourth Western Gray Whale, all female, known to have been killed in this manner on the Pacific coast of Japan in the last two years. The Western Gray Whale population consists of about 120 individuals, of which only 25 to 35 are reproductive females. According to a population projection prepared by the World Conservation Union’s Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel, this rate of loss of females will, if continued, lead to extinction of the population with high probability.

The whale, a juvenile female of approximately 9 metres length, was dead when discovered by fishermen on 19 th January 2007 in Yoshihama Bay , off the northeastern coast of Honshu . A local newspaper reported that scientists from the Institute of Cetacean Research ( Tokyo ) undertook a detailed analysis of the carcass before it was burned.

This incident follows similar events off the Pacific coast of Japan in 2005, when three Western Gray Whales, including a female and her female calf, and a yearling female were trapped and died in fixed fishing nets. The Western Gray Whale population is listed as critically endangered (the highest category of threat) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The deliberate killing of Western Gray Whales is prohibited by the International Whaling Commission who have also expressed serious concern about the status of this population.

“We are extremely worried about this problem of incidental mortality in fishing gear as it could become a major factor inhibiting the recovery of Western Gray Whales. We are eager to receive more information on the circumstances surrounding the deaths and anticipate and hope that Japanese authorities will take action immediately to reduce this risk to the whales as well as to share information and samples with other scientists working on this population”, said Randall Reeves, Chair of the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel.

The World Conservation Union established this independent scientific advisory panel to monitor the whale population and provide advice on protection measures, particularly in regard to oil development activities off Sakhalin Island , Russia , where the whales spend the summer and autumn months feeding.

“We are greatly concerned at the loss of this female, which belonged to one of the most endangered whale populations in the world. The reported incidence of Western Gray Whale entrapments off Japan has increased suddenly and we do not know why. In the ten years prior to 2005, only two gray whale deaths had been reported on the Pacific coast of Japan . It is essential that this spate of net entrapments is investigated thoroughly and that remedial action is takensaid Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

The World Conservation Union will approach the Government of Japan to seek ways of cooperating to address this issue.

Additional information will be posted on the IUCN website as it becomes available.

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Notes to Editors 

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Julian Roberts, IUCN Marine Programme Officer, Tel. +41 22 999 0291; Fax +41 22 999 0025;
julian.roberts@iucn.org, Web: Marine

Carolin Wahnbaeck, IUCN Media Relations Officer, Tel: +41 22 999 0127; Fax: +41 22 999 0020;  carolin.wahnbaeck@iucn.org; Web: www.iucn.org

François Simard, Marine Programme Coordinator, Tel. +34 952 028 430; Fax +34 952 028 145;
francois.simard@iucn.org; Web: Mediterranean Centre (for Japanese media in particular)

More information available at:
Western Gray Whale Conservation Initiative

Photos are available at:
Gray Whale Picture Gallery

About the World Conservation Union (IUCN)

Created in 1948, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) brings together 83 States, 110 government agencies, 800 plus NGOs, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. The Union ’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

The Union is the world's largest environmental knowledge network and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. The Union is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1,000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland , Switzerland.