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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp

5 June 2003

Minister Takes a Stand Against Lethal Scientific Whaling


Australia is one of the world's strongest opponents of commercial whaling and the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today indicated this opposition applies equally to commercial operations conducted under the guise of 'science'.

"The killing of whales in the name of science is neither justified nor necessary," Dr Kemp said.

The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission - which commenced in Berlin on 26 May and finishes tomorrow - is considering various research proposals and reports. Reports suggest proposals for 'scientific' whaling are likely to be put by Japan and Iceland.

The stated premise of this lethal research is the need to study how many fish whales eat. With the support of over $300,000 annually, the Commonwealth Government's Australian Antarctic Division carries out non-lethal research which refutes such claims that whales must be killed in order to determine their feeding patterns.

"This justification is hollow and I am hopeful that IWC members will recognise the unnecessary and unjustified nature of lethal research programs and support our call for an end to so-called scientific whaling," Dr Kemp said.

"This will show the world that commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research is incompatible with the conservation imperative of the modern International Whaling Commission.

"Australia does not dispute that, globally, many fisheries are in crisis. The serious decline in fish stocks is directly attributable to human actions - including over-fishing, pirate fishing, failures in international regulation and pollution - not whales."

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation recently found that 35% of 200 major fish resources are over-fished and 25% are being fished to their limit. In May 2003, the journal Nature published an analysis of the "rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities" which concluded the global oceans have lost 90% of their large predatory fish. The study correlated this loss directly with intensified fishing pressure.

Over-fishing has directly caused the collapse of many fisheries. Well-known examples include the northwest Atlantic cod fishery (now halted by the Government of Canada) and the North Sea herring fishery (which collapsed in the late 1960s). Closer to home, heavy fishing for southern bluefin tuna has rapidly reduced the abundance of this highly prized fish.

Australia is now working with other countries, including IWC members Japan, Korea and New Zealand to prevent further over-fishing in order to help the species recover.

"The Howard Government's world-leading Oceans Policy is a world's first governance framework, which will help to prevent these crises from occurring in our own waters," Dr Kemp said.

"Scientific whaling is nothing less than a search for evidence to try and make whales the scapegoats for a history of poor governance arrangements for the world's oceans.

"Australian scientists are conducting targeted research into whales and their ecosystems. None of these projects involves, or needs to involve, lethal research on whales."

One such method is DNA sampling of whale faeces to determine feeding habits. This method provides the sort of data, in a form that can be repeatedly and independently verified, that whalers are attempting to obtain by killing whales and examining their stomach contents.

"For example, innovative research at the Australian Antarctic Division in my Department studies whale faeces which are collected by a research vessel trawling a fine mesh net through the plume of material left by defecating whales. DNA is extracted from these samples to indicate what the whale has been eating.

"Results to date from this research indicate two things - first, that there is no need to kill a whale in order to discover what it has eaten; and second, that this method may actually provide a better way of looking at whale diet than lethal methods."

The 55th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission will take place in Berlin, Germany, 16-19 June 2003. Dr Kemp will lead an Australian delegation to the meeting.

Commonwealth of Australia