It is ironic, and symptomatic of the campaign to deceive and mislead the American public, that accompanying the headline "Save the Whales!" {op-ed, Jan. 12} is an illustration of the world's most endangered species, the bowhead whale, a species still hunted only by . . . the United States!

The piece itself attacks Japan for seeking to take 300 whales for scientific research from a population that is among the most abundant of the world's 3 million or more whales. This population, the Antarctic stock of the minke species, numbers more than 430,000 animals by the most conservative estimates. It is not endangered and cannot even be considered threatened.

Equally as deceptive are writer James W. Conrad's contentions that Japan's scientific research program "would add nothing significant to existing knowledge about whales"; that the feasibility study proposed by Japan was rejected by the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee; and that the scientific research is "simply a subterfuge to ensure the continuation of commercial whaling."

Japan is ending commercial whaling, as agreed, even though (as stated by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and the IWC's Scientific Committee) there was no need for a commercial moratorium on minke whales. Commercial whaling off the coast of Japan will cease by spring.

The convention's whale research provisions are not "a formerly obscure loophole," as Conrad contends. Continued whale research is a required and binding obligation for those nations that have engaged in whaling, as set forth in Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The United States has employed this provision many times in the past, particularly to sample the protected gray whale stock off the West Coast. Continued research also is required for the comprehensive assessment of whale stocks by 1990.

Japan's research programs call for obtaining needed data, from a truly representative sample, that will enable IWC scientists to estimate population size, growth and trends with greater certainty than in the past. The proposed random sampling will greatly improve the reliability of the estimates and ensure that utilization of this resource will not cause depletion. It is hardly "add{ing} nothing significant to existing knowledge about whales," as Conrad would like his readers to believe.

Japan has scrupulously done everything demanded of it by the IWC and the U.S. government, even to the extent of abiding by a nonbinding recommendation resolved by 16 of the 41 members of the IWC last summer. It postponed the research plan that a faction of antiwhaling scientists criticized, it developed a new program, which U.S. government scientists, in consultation with Japanese scientists, led the Japanese to believe would respond to the criticisms, and it submitted the new program to a special meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee. At the committee meeting, only 12 of the 37 scientists attending opposed the Japanese research, with nine of this group -- the longstanding antiwhaling faction -- unremittingly faulting every part calling for the taking of whales, even though the vast majority of the scientists agreed that the take would not affect the status of the stock.

Conrad contends that it was somehow improper for the Japanese to start their research program without waiting for an "emergency" vote on a new resolution proposed by the British IWC commissioner after the Scientific Committee meeting. First, there is no "emergency" to justify the proposed resolution; the proposed Japanese research, authorized by Article VIII, would not have any adverse effect on the stock.

The British commissioner's "emergency" resolution is an ex post facto measure, which would be improper in itself. The resolution passed by the 16 antiwhaling commissioners last summer did not require Japan to wait for another vote by the IWC commissioners, "emergency" or not. It only required that "uncertainties" in the original research proposal be resolved to the satisfaction of the Scientific Committee. And that was done!

Given the propaganda of the British commissioner's "emergency resolution" and the fact that a ballot sent by mail does not provide for explanation or debate, it might be entered as an IWC resolution solely through the vote of a majority of those commissioners bothering to respond, even though such a vote may not represent a majority of IWC members. The 16 commissioners constituting the antiwhaling block certainly will vote again en masse against Japan's research, while those who do not understand the complexities of the scientific issues, or the need for an "emergency" resolution, will either abstain or not bother to send their ballots in.

Such is life in our modern world, where a determined group can manipulate the votes to conform to their ideologies, regardless of what is right or just. I would hate to see our government policies, and our relations with our friends and allies, fall victim to this kind of pressure politics at the International Whaling Commission. -- Alan Macnow The writer is a consultant to the Japanese Whaling Association.