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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

21 July 2004

Minister attacks 'Scientific Whale Slaughter'


The Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, today attacked Japan and Iceland over plans to increase the slaughter of whales under the guise of scientific research.

He called on Japan and Iceland to abandon the practice, which next year will result in the killing of about 850 whales of various species.

"This generation has a responsibility to rebuild the health of the world's oceans," Senator Campbell said. "Saving whales is an iconic representation of that work.

"Killing whales in the name of science is an affront to science. It is not science - it is commercial slaughter."

Senator Campbell made the call as member nations of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) were meeting in Sorrento, Italy. Australia is represented by Dr Conall O'Connell, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environment and Heritage.

Senator Campbell said that since Australia abandoned whaling 25 years ago, the population of humpbacks in its coastal waters had grown from an estimated 500 to at least 10,000.

While some species, such as humpback whales, appeared to be increasing well, other species such as blue whales were still estimated to be less than 1 per cent of their original numbers.

Senator Campbell said Japan each year took approximately 700 whales of various species under the IWC's "scientific whaling" exemption and he was alarmed to learn that Japan is to increase this number to over 800 next year.

Norway also was likely to take 670 minke whales this year under its reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling and has submitted this week a plan to more than double its hunt. Iceland would target 25 minke whales this year and has not ruled out expanding its program.

"Commercial whaling continues to expand in the face of the moratorium, despite repeated requests from the IWC for the practice to end," Senator Campbell said.

"Australia will play its role at this year's meeting to encourage whaling nations to stop whaling. Our own history is proof that his is not only possible, but also beneficial."

He said a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, submitted to this year's IWC meeting by Australia, estimated that whale watching in Australia attracted 1.6 million tourists last year - double that number in 1998. Direct revenue in that period grew from $16 m to $29 m. Indirect revenue was estimated to have increased from $77 m to $276 m, driven mainly by land based whale watching, primarily at Cape Byron on the New South Wales coast.

A copy of Australia's statement to this year's IWC meeting is attached.


Opening Statement
56th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission

25 years of whale protection in Australia

Whales are migratory animals and are the heritage of all nations. We have a national and an international responsibility to preserve them for future generations. (Delivered by Dr Conall O'Connell, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Heritage.)

With this commitment, 25 years ago, the Australia Government decided to bring whaling in our waters to an end, and to pursue an international ban on commercial whaling. Over the past 25 years, Australia has made a very successful transition away from hunting whales and towards protecting them.

At the 31 st annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (London, July 1979), Australia tabled the findings of an independent National Inquiry into Whales and Whaling. The Inquiry, under Sir Sydney Frost, had held a series of public hearings, received evidence from 101 organisations and 73 individuals, and consulted 28 experts based outside Australia - many of whom were active in the IWC.

Its report addressed the uncertain status of the remaining whale populations, the biology and intelligence of whales, whaling economics, and the humaneness of whale hunts. The conclusion was " that Australia's policy should be changed, and that Australia should oppose the continuance of whaling, both within Australia and also abroad."

The Government accepted the recommendations of the National Inquiry, introduced new legislation to protect whales, and transferred this policy responsibility from the ministerial portfolio for primary industry to the environment portfolio.

While Australia's policy on whaling changed 25 years ago, Australia remained an active member of the IWC and Australians continued to lend their expertise to the Scientific Committee. Whereas once Australia contributed to the decline of whale populations, now we are proud to contribute to the collective response - to do everything within our means to provide sanctuary to whales, and to facilitate the recovery of all whale populations.

Strengthening the conservation agenda

The establishment of a Conservation Committee through Resolution 2003-1 was a major milestone for the Commission. The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling provides for both conservation and management of whale stocks. Australia recognises both of these provisions and believes the establishment of the Conservation Committee does not prevent the fulfilment of either of these objectives.

As Australia stated at IWC 55, the effect of Resolution 2003-1 was to recognise the key developments in interpreting and applying the object and purpose of the 1946 Convention, to acknowledge and clarify the important role of our Commission in the future.

Australia is optimistic that the Conservation Committee will enable the IWC to strengthen its conservation agenda by rationalising the Commission's work on that part of its agenda that deals with conservation issues, as well as institutionalising and better distributing the Commission's workload.

In Australia's view, the Committee creates an opportunity for all IWC members to address issues of real concern to the conservation of whale stocks. As the Committee identified at its inaugural meeting, these include endangered species and populations, human impacts (which might include pollution, ship strikes, bycatch/entanglement and strandings), habitat protection, best practice guidelines for whale watching, monitoring and reporting systems relevant to conservation of whales, and legal and regulatory arrangements for cetacean conservation.

Whale sanctuaries

The Australian Government remains committed to whale sanctuaries. Australia's own Exclusive Economic Zone has been a whale Sanctuary since 2000, and we welcome news that since the Commission last met, the Government of our neighbour New Caledonia took a similar decision, to declare sanctuary for whales in its waters.

This announcement takes the current national-level sanctuary coverage in the South Pacific to approximately 13.5 million square kilometres. This is an important step towards achieving the target of 20 million square kilometres in island-state national whale sanctuaries by 2007, outlined in the Action Plan for the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

As a result of the ongoing support from our region, Australia joins New Zealand in re-submitting the proposal that the Commission honours the wishes of the people of the South Pacific and creates a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary. We remain convinced of the scientific justification of protecting whales in their breeding grounds.

A South Pacific Whale Sanctuary would effectively conserve whales, as well as provide increased opportunities and economic benefits through whale watching, foster research, and increase knowledge and public awareness about whales in the region. We also support the establishment of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, to protect whales in another part of their Southern Hemisphere range.

Australia maintains its strong support for the Southern Ocean Sanctuary and is of the view is that the Sanctuary needs to be retained so that it can continue to meet the objectives for which it was established. If the provision is to contribute to "the recovery of whale stocks," ten years of protection is next to nothing in the life cycle of many whales.

Whaling

Australia has made it clear that we oppose the resumption of commercial whaling and the adoption of any Revised Management Scheme that would make that possible - because of the cruelty and distress involved, and because it is not required to meet human needs. Australia remains concerned that, while the moratorium on commercial whaling remains in place, some member Governments nonetheless continue to authorise whaling operations for commercial benefit.

Since the Commission last met, a small group has met behind closed doors to discuss the future of IWC management regimes. Australia calls for such discussions to be conducted in a transparent manner, and open to the participation of all member Governments and interested observers.

Lethal research on whales is unnecessary to inform management procedures under the IWC. Australia agrees with many scientists who stated at IWC 55 that this practice is equivalent to commercial whaling or culling, which is prohibited.

It does not appear that those Governments which issue special permits for lethal research have acknowledged the scientific criticism and the view of the Commission as a whole, as expressed through Resolutions, calling for them to cease issuing such permits. Instead, the whaling operations continue, for commercial benefit, and regrettably the total number of whales taken by IWC members continues to increase.

There is no merit to the argument that culling whales is a way to improve commercial fish stocks, nor to the proposition that the only way to gather information on the diet and ecology of whales is by killing them and cutting open their stomachs.

Australia is, of course, interested in the relationship between whales and the ecosystems in which they play an essential role. However, our biologists have developed and use non-lethal techniques to obtain this information. These advances in non-lethal techniques highlight the lack of scientific basis or benefit in scientific whaling.

While Australia opposes commercial whaling of any description, we consistently join the consensus in the IWC in favour of the ongoing limited access of some indigenous communities to whaling for traditional subsistence purposes. In our view, this exception needs to be based on strict criteria, which limits access to communities whose traditional, cultural and dietary needs have been recognised by the Commission. Any revision of these provisions should only be done with great care.

Whale watching

W hale watching is the ideal way to achieve the optimum and sustainable utilisation of whales. In Australia's view, the International Whaling Commission is the appropriate international forum to monitor the management and growth of this industry.

Commercial whaling was for generations a major component of Australia's economy and society. Over the past 25 years, whale watching has come to take whaling's place. Many of the favoured locations for watching whales are the sites of former whaling stations, and some of the guides and volunteers are the sons and daughters of the old whalers.

The 25 th anniversary of Australia's decision to bring whaling to an end in our waters is a fitting occasion for an independent update of the value of whale watching to Australia, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Asia Pacific) has commissioned a report, which Australia will table at this year's meeting for the information of fellow members.

This study has concluded that w hale watching in Australia is growing at an even faster rate than previously estimated, and its expansion has accelerated over the past decade. It found that twice as many (approximately 1.6 million) tourists engaged in whale watching in 2003 than in 1998. Direct revenues from the whale watching industry doubled in that period, while indirect revenue is estimated to have increased four-fold.

The success of this industry puts beyond a shadow of doubt that whales in Australia are now considered more valuable alive than dead. Our economy gains hundreds of millions of dollars per year, while the exercise also helps raise awareness of whales and their oceanic habitat.

We wish our fellow members a productive meeting in the delightful locale of Sorrento, Italy.

Commonwealth of Australia