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

2 June 2006

Whale spectacle starts off Australia's coastline

The Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, has urged Australians to experience the spectacle of the great whales in their natural environment over the next few months as they migrate up the western and eastern coastlines of Australia.

The 2006 whale watching season will be officially launched in Augusta, WA, this long weekend as pods of humpback and southern right whales arrive in Flinder's Bay to begin their long journey north. Whales have already been sighted migrating along the east coast.

The weekend also marks the first anniversary of the stranding of more than 110 false killer whales off Busselton. This event made headlines throughout the country, with an extraordinary rescue effort mounted by up to 800 people saving all but one whale.

The images of men, women and children crowding the beach in bitterly cold weather trying to save the whales was used by Senator Campbell to highlight to International Whaling Commission delegates at last year's annual meeting the depth of public feeling for the mammals.

Senator Campbell has just returned from a mission to the Pacific nations of Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu where he met governments in a bid to gain support for Australia's whale conservation stand in the lead up to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting this month.

“Around 21,000 humpbacks and almost 2,000 southern right whales will make the journey north along the east and west coasts of Australia to breed in warm waters over the next few months, giving us an opportunity to experience this magnificent annual event,” he said.

“It is an opportunity that has not been with us for very long. Between 1904 and 1986, before the commercial whaling moratorium, it is estimated almost two million whales were killed in the Southern hemisphere.

“These numbers are slowly recovering and we are now reaping the benefits in the Indian Ocean, with the annual show off our shores.”

Senator Campbell said while humpback numbers in the Indian Ocean were growing, they remained low in the Pacific.

During his recent delegation to the Pacific, the Minister learned of a pod of humpback whales in waters off Tonga. Australian Naval Lieutenant Richard James also told him about a whale he saw while scuba diving, believed to be the first humpback sighted in Vanuatu in a generation.

Senator Campbell said this year's IWC vote would be crunch time for the future survival of whales and every vote would be critical.

“With whale populations only just starting to recover, this is not a time to start slaughtering these creatures again,” he said.

“I have been working day and night through a range of international channels to pursue a permanent global moratorium on commercial whaling and an end to scientific whaling.

“Australia's International Whaling Commissioner has also been travelling the world meeting with like-minded conservation members of the IWC to ensure a strong united voice to save our whales.”

With the opening of the whale watching season, Senator Campbell took the opportunity to reassure the whale watching industry that if he believed taking legal action would bring an end to scientific whaling, he would have taken it already.

This approach is also supported by other pro-conservation countries, such as New Zealand.

“We have been looking at the legal theories that are available against the Japanese for some months…and there is no legal theory that is available that can prevent, in our view, the Japanese from doing what they are doing…A sovereign government cannot undertake legal action unless it has a good chance of success.”
(New Zealand's Commissioner to the IWC and former Labour Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer,
The Australian, 16 January 2006)

Senator Campbell said the Australian Government had not been reluctant to take legal action in the past to protect and conserve species, as it did with the southern blue fin tuna.

“The opening of the whale watching season in WA is a reminder to us all just how precious our whales are and how worthy this fight is,” he said.

Media contact:
Marianne McCabe on 02 6277 7640 or 0400 389 580.

Commonwealth of Australia