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

27 April 2005

Experts to focus on entangled whales at workshop

A national workshop on the Gold Coast this week will help whale rescuers hone their skills in disentangling the mammals from marine debris, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said today.

"Disentanglements are a major undertaking, and pose extreme safety issues for the personnel involved," Senator Campbell said.

"To ensure that we remain world leaders in this area, the Australian Government is proud to be hosting this National Large Whale Disentanglement training workshop.

"Representatives from South Africa are joining more than 80 state conservation and fishery experts from South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland for training in best practice techniques developed here.

"To date in Australia, no human deaths have occurred while attempting to free whales from fishing gear, shark nets or other marine debris, but in 2003 a man died in New Zealand attempting to disentangle a humpback whale.

"Specific training and equipment is necessary not only to save whales, but also to prevent death or injury to those attempting to free these very large and powerful animals. Techniques emphasise human safety and do not involve people getting into the water with the whale."

The workshop is the third to be funded under the Australian Government's $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust. It includes all-day, hands-on training on the water, with rescuers practicing techniques on a life-sized model from a boat.

Doug Coughran from WA Conservation and Land Management (CALM) will be the workshop's principal trainer. Mr Coughran, the Australia's leading expert in this field, visited the Centre for Coastal Studies, Massachusetts USA under a Churchill Fellowship in 2004. The centre coordinates many large whale disentanglements in the North Atlantic.

Senator Campbell said the Government was also tackling entanglements with a threat abatement plan for marine debris scheduled for completion before the statutory deadline of August 2006. This follows the declaration of marine debris as a key threatening process affecting some endangered marine animals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 2003.

"As part of the threat abatement plan we will work with our regional neighbours to reduce the level of marine debris and we have discussed the problem with Indonesian officials," he said.

Australia is also involved in an APEC project studying abandoned fishing nets. Marine debris is one of the two themes this year for the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea, in which Australia participates.

Renae Stoikos (Senator Campbell's office) 02 6277 7640 or 0418 568 434

Commonwealth of Australia