I noticed via Japan Probe, via Scoop NZ, that there was a press release issued by the Institute Of Cetacean Research, which, if Wikipedia’s article is to be trusted, is basically not much more than a front for the Japanese government for justifying whaling. In the press release there is much statistical jiggery-pokery that I shall try to get to the bottom of.

In November 2006, Internet giant Yahoo Japan held an online poll that showed 90 percent public support for a return to commercial whaling. In the recent poll, 21,221 people cast a vote, with 19,001 agreeing with sustainable commercial whaling and 2220 opposed. In Japanese only: http://polls.dailynews.yahoo.co.jp

Basic fact checking: the poll was conducted from the 18th to 24th of October, not November as stated in the article. Obvious errors like that, whilst not affecting the validity of any of the points in the article, indicates sloppiness to me, and heightens my critical evaluation of the rest of the text. Basic fact checking 2: the poll was on whether people supported Iceland’s unilateral resumption of commercial whaling, a small yet significant difference.

This result also highlights the danger in accepting at face value the results of online polls, in particular public polls. First, there is no protection against multiple votes; in fact, just deleting or refusing the cookie that gets pushed after voting allows one to vote again. Second, publishing a link to an online poll from a pro-issue (or anti-issue for that matter) blog can easily bias the voting population. Looking at other polls conducted around the same time, however, I cannot see anything that obviously indicates excessive ballot stuffing, although two other science-related polls were conducted at the same time, with one on how much to pay for a cloak of invisibility gathering a similar 21,142 votes, but one on eating cloned beef gained just 8,048 votes. My gut feeling is that cloned beef would be more of an issue than Icelandic commercial whaling, however, so I cannot say that there wasn’t fraudulent voting.

Yahoo’s poll mirrors a similar poll by Japan’s Cabinet Office in 2001 that found 75.4 percent of respondents agreed with sustainable whaling based on scientific evidence, with 14.6 percent having no opinion and only 9.9 percent of respondents disagreeing.

I looked at that poll before, and I thought it was quite a fairly conducted poll. However, I can’t find it again! If anyone has a link, please let me know.

Dr Hatanaka said Greenpeace Japan’s poll released on 15 June 2006, which is constantly referred to by Greenpeace spokespeople and various media, showed that only 26.4 percent of respondents disagreed with whaling, while 34.5 percent of the public wanted commercial whaling. A staggering 39.2 percent had absolutely no view. (View Greenpeace Japan’s poll results here, Page 8 has the executive summary)

That’s worth a read, as even if there were bias in the questioning that one might expect from a poll sponsored by Greenpeace (not that I saw any in the English version), they didn’t get the result they may have wanted.

I did see an interesting argument postulated (and that Cabinet Office poll used it in one question) that when Westerners get all dewy-eyed about saving the whales (let alone Sea Shepherd’s pirate skipper suggesting he may very well carry out a kamikaze mission against Japanese whaling ships) Japanese tend to have a knee-jerk reaction against this perceived foreign interference in their culture.

For the record, as a vegetarian I have zero interest in eating whale, but I have concerns about the high levels of mercury and other heavy metals that may or may not be present in whale meat, so I couldn’t recommend eating it to anyone without further investagation into this issue. From the whaling point of view, if there really is a market (and that seems to be a very big if) and if the whales are harvested in a sustainable (both ecologically and financially) manner, then I see it as no worse than other fishing or land mammal hunting. Indeed, the quality of life of a whale before ending up as steak seems better than that of a farmed cow before becoming a Big Mac. I support the rights of aboriginal and other peoples to conduct small-scale traditional costal hunting, of course, coming as I do from a small community where annual gannet strangling trips is one of our traditional barbaric pastimes.

Oh, and although this refers to another aquatic mammal beloved by the Japanese, I thought this subtle Simpsons dig was worth linking to.

Categories: Opinion

1 Comment

kujirakira · March 9, 2011 at 15:04

Some issues I take with this, the Yahoo poll does indeed reference Iceland.
However, it specifically asks if people are in favor of returning to commercial whaling in light of Iceland’s intentions to do so themselves.
You seem to mischaracterize the question when it is actually asking what ICR said it was.

The original press releases from ICR, just for the record.

For all the talk of bias about the Yahoo poll it’s rather odd and incongruous that you would take Wikipedia t face value and defend a poll done by Greenpeace?
Obviously any poll over Yahoo is going to be flawed to some degree, but it seems like there is some other bias going on here when you hold a blatantly biased poll done by a biased party above one that is demonstrably even-handed though flawed.

Regarding mercury, that is only an issue with dolphin meat. Mercury contamination is also an issue with other predators that feed high on the food chain — including tuna, shark, etc. Mercury accumulates as organisms feed on eachother, gaining higher concentrations as they progress up the food chain.
Whales, on the other hand, feed on krill — minuscule creatures that are themselves very low on the food chain.
All the studies on Hg in cetacean meat further back this up. Toothed cetaceans (ie: dolphins) that consume other predators are high in mercury. Baleen whales are very low in mercury.

Animal Rights groups deliberately act as if there is no difference between whales and dolphins in order to muddy the waters and vilify all hunting of cetaceans.
The reality is that, if they were truly concerned about health aspects, they would have to concede that hunting more whales is logical.

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