16 JAN 1979

Bowhead Whale Conference
Anchorage Westward Hilton
Statement by Eben Hopson

This meeting provides me an opportunity to comment upon the role of the scientist in the bowhead whaling controversy. I regard this role to have been more political than scientific, and I would say that scientists have played the leading role in the politics of the bowhead whale. Our bowhead whaling has become a symbolic pawn in the international politics of commercial fishing. This began in the early 1970s when American scientists cooperated in a political program to discredit our Inupiat subsistence whaling at the annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission. American scientists used the time-honored tactic of repeating the racist lore of Native American wasteful hunting to manipulate the IWC’s scientific committee into reaction that was successful in banning our subsistence bowhead whaling.

This manipulation was done secretly over a seven-year period. Through this tactic, government scientists were able to accomplish what they were unwilling to pursue through legal means of public hearings. As you all know, the government might have used the procedures of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act to bring our bowhead whaling under Federal regulation. But in order to do this, the Government would have had to present a good scientific case to prove depletion to the point where even our subsistence whaling was killing off the bowhead. but this was not done. Rather, American scientists were used in a secret conspiracy to use the IWC’s Scientific Committee to evade due process. They denied us due process because they could not demonstrate scientifically any need for Inupiat bowhead whaling regulation. So they used the back room politics of the IWC to accomplish what they could not do in the clear light of day.

As a result of the concern of such legislators as Frank Ferguson, Leo Shaeffer, Thelma Buchholdt and John Sackett, last year the State Legislature appropriated $250,000 for a partnership between the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Arctic Information, Education and Data Center of the University of Alaska. This money enabled us to get into the game of bowhead scientific politics with our own hand. This Conference is being held for the purpose of reporting to the AEWC about the status of bowhead research. For the first time, we are to get an inside view of the world of bowhead scientific research. We have been able to confirm the impoverishment of bowhead biological knowledge, and we can confirm our suspicions about how Government scientists were used to pander the bowhead political intrigue of the National Marine Fisheries Service under the administration of Richard Nixon.

But, events following the sudden IWC bowhead whaling ban of 1977 have revealed that we Inupiat are not the only victims of the political manipulation of Government scientists and bureaucrats in Washington D.C. The Federal balkanization of Alaska in the name of D-2 makes all Alaskans victims of the same kind of treatment we whalers are now suffering along the Arctic coast. All Alaskans should be concerned with how scientists are to be used and manipulated politically. We must all try to make the politics of science more democratic. Otherwise, scientific opinion will suffer artificial inflation and become worthless through loss of public confidence.

Making science more democratic means that scientists must honor the knowledge of the people. In this case, the commissioners of the AEWC share great knowledge of the biology of the bowhead whale, and this conference provides us with an opportunity to evaluate and exchange the theoretical knowledge of the scientist and the real knowledge of the whaler.

Had this democratic scientific partnership existed earlier, we would not have to be here today. But we are here, and our partnership promises to evolve to strengthen us further as we defend both ourselves and the bowhead whale from unsafe offshore Arctic oil and gas operations. For we Inupiat and the bowhead whale have become the index species in the Arctic. If offshore operations cannot pass muster with both whale and whaler, they must be prevented.

In this connection, I would like to suggest that bio-acoustical research needs to be encouraged, and should be an important part of future bowhead and Arctic offshore research. Perhaps concentrating on bio-acoustics can provide bowhead whale research with the coherence it now lacks. If the Federal government is really serious about the bowhead; if the bowhead is anything more than a political pawn in the international politics of commercial fishing, the Federal government can prove it by joining with the AEWC to design a coherent and organized bowhead research program to replace the confusion and failure characterizing bowhead research today.

Today’s conference provides us all an opportunity to help organize a sound bowhead research program. This past year of cooperation has been one of assessment. Now that we know that things are every bit as bad as we thought they were, we must document how insubstantial was the scientific justification for the 1977 IWC bowhead whaling ban, and we must begin, apparently for the first time, really, to learn about the bowhead whale. The bowhead has much to teach us about our Arctic homeland. Perhaps the shabbiness of America’s bowhead research will make us realize our extreme environmental danger in the Arctic, and will lead us to shape up throughout all of the Arctic environmental sciences.

Thank you all for coming here to learn about the status of bowhead research. We should look to next January with the hope that the coming year will produce the knowledge we need. But this knowledge production will depend upon our ability to shame the government into paying serious attention to Arctic environmental research. Bowhead research may provide needed focus. If it does, then some good may come out of all this.