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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

6 February 2001

Australia Maintains Opposition to Commercial Whaling

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill said Australia would maintain its strong opposition to commercial whaling during this week's Inter-sessional meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Monaco.

The Inter-sessional meeting is being held to discuss the Revised Management Scheme. The Revised Management Scheme is part of a package of measures that will be used to manage the number of whales to be killed if the global moratorium on commercial whaling is lifted.

Any move to adopt the scheme is seen by many as a precursor to a resumption of commercial whaling.

"Australia will actively oppose the adoption of the proposed Revised Management Scheme by the International Whaling Commission (IWC)," Senator Hill said.

"We will oppose adoption of the scheme because it is inconsistent with Australia's strong opposition to commercial whaling and our goal of seeking a permanent worldwide ban on commercial whaling.

"The 21st century should be the century in which the great whales are given permanent, global protection. We should not be taking any steps that could lead to a resumption of the disastrous commercial whaling that occurred in the last century. "

"There are many reasons why whaling should not recommence. Many species were hunted to the point of extinction. Over 1.5 million whales were taken from the Southern Hemisphere alone last century," Senator Hill said.

"Many populations of whales face serious and worsening environmental threats as a result of pollution, conflicting uses of resources, and damage or destruction of habitat. Whaling practices are also cruel and inhumane. For these reasons, Australia will continue to oppose the introduction of the Revised Management Scheme and any weakening of the global moratorium."

"This is a fundamental issue for Australia and we will not waiver in our goal to seek a permanent worldwide end to commercial whaling."

February 6, 2001
Contact: Belinda Huppatz 08 8237 7920 or 0419 258364

Supporting statement attached.

Statement by Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Australian Minister for the Environment

Australia will not support the adoption of the proposed Revised Management Scheme (RMS) by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). To do so would be in direct conflict with the Australian Government's strong opposition to commercial whaling and its goal of seeking a permanent worldwide ban on commercial whaling.

This statement seeks to reiterate the reasons why the Australia Government maintains this opposition. Commercial whaling is unacceptable when the threats that whales face are fully considered.

There is a growing recognition of the need for global action and cooperation to conserve our oceans and their biological diversity. The world's marine biodiversity is facing serious and worsening threats as a result of pollution, over-exploitation, conflicting uses of resources, and damage to or destruction of habitat.

There now exists greater cause for concern about the ability of whale populations to withstand direct hunting in the face of these cumulative threats. The uncertainty posed by these threats is reason enough to oppose any move towards a resumption of commercial whaling.

Persistent pollutants such as pesticides, DDT and PCB are increasing in the marine environment. 47 per cent of the North Pacific minke whales on sale in the Japanese market contain levels of least one contaminant in excess of national or international standards. Even Southern Hemisphere minke whales, which live in areas previously assumed to be pristine such as Antarctica, also show levels of dioxins.

These are issues that should be the concern of the World Health Organization but also indicate that many whales carry significant toxin burdens which can effect their reproductive ability and cause immunosuppression which can lead to disease.

Climate change is likely to be affecting water circulation and nutrient abundance in major upwelling areas of the oceans. The Scientific Committee of CCAMLR has indicated that global krill mass, a major food source for baleen whales, has fallen to as little as 67 million tonnes from an estimated 500 million tonnes. It is thought that retreating pack ice and other climate change and ozone depletion effects have contributed to this decline.

Over fishing and climate factors causing a shortage of food on their feeding grounds may have contributed towards the death of hundreds of Eastern Pacific gray whales since early 1999.

A global effort is required to overcome such threats and Australia is conscious of its responsibilities in contributing to that effort.

For most of the period in which the IWC has operated, the world's whale populations were hunted unsustainably. Many species were hunted to the point of extinction. Over 1.5 million whales were taken from the Southern Hemisphere alone last century. The Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling has had some positive benefits in the recovery of whale numbers but we are still not able to determine if it came in time to save some species and populations.

We now hear arguments from those opposed to a continued moratorium on commercial whaling that numbers of certain species have recovered enough to allow the resumption of full-scale commercial whaling. They argue that there is an obligation on this Commission to allow commercial whale hunting to resume.

At IWC52 it was revealed that previous assumptions about population estimates need to be revised downwards. We have known that genetically distinct, but visually indistinguishable, populations of North Pacific minke whales exist. IWC Scientific Committee discussions now also indicate that there are two separate species of Southern Hemisphere minke whales.

When it comes to conserving our wild animals and marine wildlife, second chances are rare. For these species of whales that were not hunted to extinction, it appears we have been given a second chance - a chance that must not be lost.

Commercial whaling is no longer required to meet essential human needs. There is no evidence to indicate that commercial whaling is necessary to provide food or other products for human consumption.

Whaling methods continue to involve an unacceptable level of cruelty. Humane killing requires that the death of the animal occur without pain, stress of distress to the animal through a process that causes instant insensibility that lasts until the death of the animal. As whales cannot be killed humanely they should not be killed at all - the cruelty of whale killing methods alone is sufficient reason to abolish all commercial whaling.

Most importantly, countries and communities worldwide are recognising and benefiting from non-consumptive use of whales, particularly through the development of whale watching. This sustainable and profitable use of whales provides significant opportunities for further economic development and employment growth, which would be jeopardised by a resumption of commercial whaling.

The Australian Government remains firmly committed to achieving an end to commercial whaling. To this end Australia has strongly supported the establishment of sanctuaries in the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean and will continue to work to ensure that these areas effectively protect whales. Australia and New Zealand proposed the establishment of a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific to compliment the two existing sanctuaries.

Australia also continues to be concerned that whales are still being killed unnecessarily in the name of science. There is no justification for "scientific whaling": the application of non-lethal techniques for identifying whale stocks and investigating their environment clearly demonstrates that lethal research is not required to address questions critical to the conservation and management of cetaceans.

The debate about whaling is not just a debate about science. Getting the science right - to ensure that no species or resource is sent to extinction by use of it - is essential. But even if we were sure about the science, the argument still remains that the science being right is a necessary but not sufficient reason to consume a resource.

Simply because whales can be killed does not make a case that they should be. There being no reason that whales should be killed, Australia finds no difficultly in endorsing the proposition that they should not be.

Commonwealth of Australia