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As our understanding of sentience in certain wildlife species grows, and technological advancements promote nonlethal data collection, we believe that we ought to adjust our field methods to incorporate a regime of best practice that prioritizes nonlethal methodologies over inhumane methods of lethal sampling. In addition, progress already made toward nonlethal methodologies in wildlife research needs to be promoted widely. In this paper, we examine whether lethal methods of whale research, using Japanese lethal scientific whaling as a case study, are ethical when the scientific information can be gained from nonlethal methods, and humane methods of killing are not available. As a part of a simple ethical decision-making model, we explore if a requirement for “refinement” of scientific technique, promoted extensively for laboratory-based animal experimentation, has direct applicability to scientific research involving free-living wildlife. We argue that refinement is an appropriate ethical principle in all cases where scientific research involves a choice between nonlethal sampling and the deliberate killing of free-living wildlife for scientific purposes. We conclude that the welfare of individual animals and the conservation of free-living wildlife populations are both worthy of moral consideration and need not be incompatible in humane wildlife research and management.

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Journal Article

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