Oops: University of Aberdeen used to justify Iceland's whaling programme.

Posted by Willie — 3 December 2013 at 12:35pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace
University of Aberdeen research is being used to justify Iceland's whaling programme.

Science doesn’t always get a lot of breaks, it’s constantly twisted and misrepresented in the media, and sometimes the best intentions end up being used in ways the scientists themselves would never want them to be or condone. Who’d have thought, for example, that UK universities could be used to defend commercial whaling? Yet, that's exactlly what's happening right now.

The University of Aberdeen was recently cited as a ‘proponent’ of Iceland’s ‘scientific’ whaling programme in an official report to the International Whaling Commission. 'Scientific whaling' is just commercial whaling by a slightly less offensive name, and contrary to the impression often given, it is not internationally sanctioned or supported. Any quotas given out for such science, whether by Japan or Iceland (the only two countries that currently do it) are set and approved only by the country doing the whaling.

It is unique in scientific research, in that the meat from the test subjects (whales) ends up on sale commercially. Politically, the reasoning to do this ‘science’ (killing whales) is to support, defend, and justify commercial whaling. As such ‘scientific whaling’ does science no favours, in tarnishing its name.

Where this gets worse for universities - which in the UK rely on funding from government and fee-paying students - is when they are used to defend something that the UK government and UK public are clearly against. Academics may smart at this, but they have a role to play in ensuring they and their institutions are not used to defend the indefensible.

We recently met with the University of Aberdeen, along with colleagues from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) and the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association (INCA) to point out the problem. Our colleague from INCA was able to relay first-hand to the University of Aberdeen how its involvement was being used in Iceland to justify and legitimise the whaling programme. In that meeting it became clear that the issue had not even been referred to the University’s ethics committee, and that the university wasn’t aware that they were being officially listed as a ‘proponent’ of scientific whaling (and were the only non-Icelandic institution to be). The result of that meeting was a rather weak letter which said they hadn’t done anything illegal, and they thought using already-killed whales was ethically justifiable.

Not good enough, Aberdeen.

Around the world, those keen to exploit our oceans and their species put a lot more effort and resources into protecting their interests than those who want to protect and conserve them. That’s the imbalance we face politically, and have to fight against. Our respected universities shouldn’t get drawn into this to be used as ‘the UK’ supporting, endorsing, or legitimising whaling that the UK government and UK public are fundamentally opposed to.

And while we are at it using language like ‘whale sacrifice’ kids no one. Lest we forget the sacrifice is at the end of an explosive harpoon and may well have involved a lingering painful death as Greenpeace’s footage and IFAW’s research has shown.

UK universities have a good reputation worldwide, that’s why their good name is in demand. As St Andrews University found out a few years ago, they have to be very careful not to be drawn into the murky waters of whaling politics. By the time they are busy clarifying how their name and research is mentioned and used, the reputational damage has already been done.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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