Whales 'could be saved by own skin'
RESEARCHERS in Australia are working on a humane way of carrying out scientific research on whales - by catching bits of their sloughed-off skin, according to the scientific journal Nature.Currently scientists determine the age of whales - necessary for assessing how their numbers are recovering from decades of commercial whaling - by counting layers in their ear wax, a procedure that can only be performed on a dead whale.
Now researchers from the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre in Lismore, NSW, are developing another method.
Trailing behind the mammals in a boat, they use a kitchen sieve tied to the end of a stick to scoop up flakes of skin shed naturally by the whales when they soar out of the water or slap their tails onto its surface.
They believe they may be able to develop a system to work out a whale's age by removing genetic material from the skin samples.
"If they are right, one of the key arguments in favour of killing whales for scientific purposes will be dead in the water," the London-based international journal Nature said.
The researchers said the need for humane methods was now urgent, since Japan has declared it will increase its annual catch of whales for "research purposes", Nature reported.
The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 but Japan has continued hunting for what it calls scientific research.