Despite a world moratorium on commercial whaling passed by the International Whaling Commission in 1982, whaling continues under the guise of scientific research by Japan and through consistent fisheries "bycatch" of whales in South Korea. Products from both scientific research and bycatch are legally sold in these countries.
Right whales and other baleen whales were hunted to near extinction during the last two hundred years, virtually eliminating an entire trophic level of primary consumers, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere. Using only sail power and hand-held harpoons, European and 'Yankee' whaling ships severely depleted northern right, southern right (including the Auckland Island stock), bowhead, gray and, in some regions, sperm whales before the end of the 19th century.
SPLASH is an international cooperative effort involving researchers from the United States, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Canada, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The aims of the three-year project are to understand the population structure of humpback whales across the North Pacific, and to assess the status, trends in abundance and potential human impacts to this population.
Humpback whales migrate each year to winter breeding grounds near islands and shallow banks in the tropical waters of Oceania (South Pacific) after feeding during summer in waters near the Antarctic. Humpback whales in Oceania were hunted first during the 19th century by "Yankee" style whaling vessels and more intensively during the 20th century by factory ships and modern shore-based operations.
In order to determine the present state of recovery of whale populations, it is critical that we are able to accurately reconstruct the history of their exploitation. This is typically performed by fitting an abundance trajectory through three points in time; the first is prior to exploitation, when the population is assumed to have been at carrying capacity; the second is at the point of minimum abundance (the ‘bottleneck'), which is generally constrained to be greater than zero; the third is provided by current abundance estimates from the recovering population. While the third point in the trajectory tends to be well characterized, little attention has been given to estimating the point of minimum abundance.