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Transcript
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

18 October, 2005
Doorstop
Hillarys Boat Shed, Perth

Whale conservation initiatives and whales/dolphin watching guidelines


Senator Campbell:
We’re here today for three or four very important announcements. The first is that we’ll be trialling Australian technology and tagging whales using the latest in modern technology to track whales; it’s to demonstrate that you can lead the world - in science - on whales without slaughtering them. We need to know more about how whales behave, where they feed, how they migrate and the device that we’re demonstrating with Professor Nick Gales here today will hopefully take that sort of research to a new level. We’ve sought to design a satellite tracking beacon that will basically not irritate or potentially threaten whales through infection; a device that will just go into the blubber. Nick tells me that it would be no worse than us getting a mozzie bite or a small splinter. The trouble with devices in the past is that they have gone through the flesh of the whale, into the muscle, and that’s a risk for infection; these will only go in the blubber on the outside. We’re hoping to get a device that will actually stay in the whale for a much longer period; the devices we’ve had in the past have fallen out after six or eight weeks and that’s not particularly effective. So today we launch that. We’re also launching a new technique for retrieving biopsy material from whales. We need to demonstrate to the world that to learn about whales and their biology, you don’t have to kill them; that we can actually learn as much as anyone else can from killing a whale by actually taking a very small biopsy, very similar to what doctors would take away from humans to get pathology. We can learn about how old they are, what they eat, where they go - from taking a small biopsy. We’ll also be launching today – I am launching today – a new set of national, comprehensive whale and dolphin watching guidelines. We’re demonstrating here today that because we’ve banned the whaling of humpbacks, there are more and more humpbacks going along both the east and west coasts of Australia; more of these animals are likely to interact with humans in coming years and we wanted to make sure that all of the states and the Commonwealth guidelines are common and best-practice worldwide. When I went to the Pacific Islands earlier this year to lobby on International Whaling Commission matters I invited a couple of the Pacific Island nations to also be engaged because they have new industries setting up over there; so these are likely to become international guidelines in the future. And finally, I’m announcing that we will host a major International Whaling Commission scientific meeting in Hobart in April – and that is to focus the most expert scientists on humpback numbers to bring to the International Whaling Commission meeting in St Kitts in the Caribbean next year, the very, very best advice on what has happened to the six humpback species, abundance numbers? how have they recovered? how are they recovering? And inform the International Whaling Commission with the very best science available about humpback recover and abundance.

Journalist:
This new satellite tracking, is this brand new? Like the way you actually ‘inject’ it into the whale, is everything new about it?

Senator Campbell:
The whole thing is new. The concept is not un-new; it’s very similar to the satellite beacon that I, with Steve Irwin, sewed onto the back of a crocodile up at Cape York a few weeks ago. The concept that having a satellite tracker on an animal is not new; what is totally new about this is that the device is designed to not enter the whales muscles; they simply stop at the blubber. To still be able to send a signal when the whale comes up to breathe; and the deployment device, the very lethal looking air rifle, is also newly designed to ensure the device is deployed in a way that doesn't hurt the whale.

Journalist:
How long will the device stay in the whale?

Senator Campbell:
Well that’s what we’re going to find out. This is the first year that we’re deploying this, and this is what research is all about; a lot of this is trial and error. But Australia wants to demonstrate that we lead the world in Antarctic and marine mammal research, particularly related to whales. We in the Government believe it’s an incredibly important way to draw the world’s attention to the fact that you do not have to slaughter whales to learn about them. We have always regarded the so-called 'scientific whaling' as a rort and we want, rather than just use rhetoric to convince people of that, to demonstrate it using the world’s best scientists and the world’s best science.

Journalist:
What are you hoping to learn about whales...(inaudible)...through the tracking?

Senator Campbell:
Their migratory paths, their breeding cycles, their feeding paths – basically all the information necessary to learn about whales. We’ve been interacting with whales for centuries now, we still don’t know enough about them. We regard the conservation of whales as one of the leading priorities of the Australian Government and the governments of the world, and to be fair dinkum about that you need to understand their breeding cycles, feeding cycles and migratory cycles, and this technology needs to be combined.

Journalist:
...Inaudible...

Senator Campbell:
Well that’s the same processes basically, we’re developing equipment that can take a biopsy in a way that doesn’t upset the whale; it can retrieve the sample effectively and get it back to the lab in a way that can be analysed.

Journalist:
That hasn’t been developed yet?

Senator Campbell:
That has been developed, yes.

Journalist:
How much is the program worth?

Senator Campbell:
The Australian Government has invested to date about $3 million.

Journalist:
...Inaudible...

Senator Campbell:
We’ve been doing it since 1996. This is an annual program and this is the latest iteration of it; this is a long term program. It’s not a one-off, it builds on nine years of work by the Howard Government.

Journalist:
The biopsy, did you say that a method has been developed, or is being developed?

Senator Campbell:
No, we have it developed at the moment; we’re using it and we obviously continue to refine it in a way that doesn’t harm the whale.

Journalist:
How many whales are you going to be tracking in this way?

Senator Campbell:
I’ll have to get Nick to answer that question – I think we’re looking at about a dozen.

Journalist:
Is it just on the west coast?

Senator Campbell:
I think it’s on the west and the east coast. Yes. It is a dozen whales, Nick? At least a dozen, yes. It’s fins, blues, humpbacks and possibly southern rights. The other thing that we’re working on is a program to – once we get these satellite tracking devices perfected so we can have them in the whales for potentially very long periods of time – we’re working on a program to see the information stuck on the world wide web which would enable school children from around the world, but particularly here in Australia, to follow the paths of individual whales. And of course we’re working with Curt Jenner here in Western Australia to look at a whale naming program so that schools can actually adopt a whale, name the whale and follow its progress over a long period. We’re obviously a long way from that at this stage but that’s one of my dreams, to ensure that school children right around the world can follow the actions of whales that they would get to know.

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