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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

IFAW's Whale Watching Worldwide report; WSPA petition

Transcript
Press conference with Patrick Ramage and Vassili Papastavrou, International Fund for Animals (IFAW) and
Claire Bass and Liesel Jones, World Society for the Protection of Animals
23 June 2009

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RAMAGE: Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us. My name is Patrick Ramage and I am Whale Program Director for IFAW - The International Fund for Animal Welfare.

IFAW is here as an observer delegation to the IWC meeting and we're very pleased today to be taking the opportunity here at the International Whaling Commission to release a major new research report Whale Watching Worldwide: tourism numbers, expenditures and expanding economic benefits.

This is a leviathan size report - what I am holding before you is just the executive summary - and it is this information that Minister Garrett will later today be sharing with delegations to the whaling commission meeting, on the floor. The document in its entirety is rather larger and is available to you online.

I will just be sharing a little bit of the information with you and then we will hear from Mr Garrett and Mr Papastavrou, a whale biologist and colleague of mine from IFAW, about the IWC's work on whale watching, very briefly. And then we'll be doing some rearranging upfront here and colleagues from the World Society for the protection of Animals - WSPA - will be giving a presentation on animal welfare aspects for the IWC's consideration, featuring another prominent Australian, Olympic swimmer, Liesel Jones.

As government's from around the world sit debating what to do about whales, their citizens are pointing the way and the conclusions of the IFAW report - an assessment of the 119 countries now engaged in whale watching worldwide are striking. This new economic analysis shows that more than 13 million people took whale watching tours last year in those 119 countries generating ticket fees and tourism expenditures of more than $2.1 billion US dollars during the last calendar year. The report also shows dramatic growth of the whale watching industry in Asia, the Pacific, South America, Caribbean and Europe and that that growth significantly outpaces global tourism growth rates over the past decade.

More than 3300 whale watching operations around the world now employ an estimated 13,200 people. The international research data collection and analysis for this new report were conducted over 18 months by the Melbourne based Environmental Economists -at-large and Associates.

At a time when the world's whales, our global economy and international efforts at whale conservation all face significant threats it is encouraging to see coastal communities worldwide benefiting from this sustainable, whale-friendly and economically beneficial industry throughout the world.

As an organisation committed to solutions that benefit both animals and people, IFAW is very gratified by the results of the new report which demonstrate in black and white what we have always believed - that animals and people both do better when whales are seen and not hurt.

I would like to thank Mr Garrett for joining us this afternoon.

Australia, as we have seen in recent weeks, isn't content to come and just talk about whales at these meetings. Like tourists world wide, the government of Australia is putting its money behind the cause of whale protection. And Minister Garrett, before his time in Government and certainly since, right up through a very eloquent statement this morning, has been a real leader on these issues. He is a long time personal inspiration for me as well and thank you before being with us Minister.

GARRETT: Look, thanks very much Patrick and thank you for your kind words. Can I commend IFAW for undertaking this really important research and showing conclusively that there are great economic benefits from whale watching, that whale watching is an industry which is growing right around the world and that the potential for communities to generate sustainable livelihood from watching whales - not killing them but watching them - is significant. And Australia is really pleased to see that this Whale Watching Worldwide report confirms what we have been saying about the prospects for whale watching and the fact that we can actually have a new model for resource use with an industry like whale watching.

What Whale Watching Worldwide shows is that this industry has grown strongly over a decade. It shows that there are a number of places around the world where interest and involvement in whale watching is increasing. That includes places like South-East Asia, Latin America, Europeans but also I noticed the Middle East as well. And I think what it tells us is that we're only at the very start of what will be a really significant industry, a sustainable economic opportunity for communities and the opportunity for us to think differently about the way in which we interact with these animals.

Apart from the economic values that whale watching brings - and they are important economic values, particularly in a global financial crisis - there are other positive values as well. And I think of the increasing level of public awareness that comes from whale watching. The fact that tourism is such a strong driver for many countries of sustainable economic growth, whale watching complements the tourism industry in a very, very positive way but it also provides additional opportunity for people to learn and understand about whales and for community awareness worldwide to increase as a consequence of whale watching.

I am very pleased to see that South Africa will be bringing forward a proposal for the Commission to consider a working group on whale watching. If you look at the very modest beginnings of this industry and the way in which it is transforming itself into a billion dollar industry now, I think you can only but agree that the prospects for whale watching into the future are very good indeed.

This is research which is entirely consistent with what we have been saying both here at the International Whaling Commission and broadcasting more widely, and that is that a modern, conservation focused interaction with natural resources including these whale populations, can be done in a way that provide economic benefits for communities, which derives a sustainable livelihood for people in developed and in middle and in lower income countries, and says to us very clearly that there is an economic model for interacting with whales in the future and the increasing public awareness and connection with whale watching means that our understanding and our commitment to taking good care of whales can only continue.

So, I have very great delight, Patrick, in being able to launch Whale Watching Worldwide at the 61st International Whaling Commission, commend IFAW for their very good work and also the contents of this report to all of you.

Thank you.

RAMAGE: As we play musical chairs I am here I would just like to quickly introduce Vassili Papastavrou, a marine biologist whose work with IFAW and on the issue of whale watching in the IWC for a good many years - a distillation of the forward to our new report is contained in the executive summary where Vassili lays out the thirty years or so progress that the IWC has been making on whale watching and I just wanted him to touch briefly on that today. Vass.

PAPASTAVROU: Good afternoon everybody. Whale watching has a long history within the IWC. Looking through its previous reports from my point of view the first mention I can find is 1975 and since then the IWC has discussed both in its scientific committee and in its political meetings, almost every conceivable aspect of whale watching. The socio economic aspects for example, the aspects upon which this report is based, the legal aspects, the scientific aspects - there has been a continuing discussion of many of the scientific aspects of whale watching - and the education values of whale watching.

So it seems to most of us obvious that the IWC as the only global body that is devoted to the conservation of whales, it seems obvious that this should be the body that actually grapples with the issue of whale watching and actually looks at how whale watching can actually benefit both whales and people. The IWC scientific committee brings together the key scientists from around the world and it is clearly the pre-eminent body to discuss the scientific aspects of this issue. But the Commission itself is now large - it is has around 85 member countries - and there are fantastic opportunities for countries which have mature and established whale watching industries to actually share the benefits of their experience with those countries that are just setting up operations.

The convention which governs the IWC was setup a long time ago in 1946, in a different age. It talks of safeguarding for future generations the great natural resources represented by the whales. And discussion of whale watching in the IWC is actually helping to establish this and helping the transition from International Whaling Commission to International Whale Commission.

Thank you.

RAMAGE: Thanks all very much for being with us today. The Minister, Vassilli and I will be available to you at the conclusion of presentations today for any follow-up questions that you might have.

You'll note that we have got a habit of alliteration in that the report is entitled Whale Watching Worldwide. You have been watching discussion of whaling. We've now talked about whale watching and now we're going to hear from Claire Bass and company from WSPA about welfare. If you'll bear with us just for a moment.

BASS: Thank you all very much for coming and for staying to hear our presentation. My name is Claire Bass, as Patrick said, and I manage the marine mammal campaigns for the World Society for the Protection of Animals. WSPA is the world's largest alliance of animal welfare organisation and we strive to create a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty ends.

We have been campaigning against whaling -commercial whaling - since 2003 on the simple grounds that whaling is unacceptably and inherently cruel. This year as the IWC undertakes a process to determine its future, our message has been firm and simple - we want to see whales and not whaling protected.

Mindful of the Australian public's strong concerns for the welfare of hunted whales, we were thrilled when Olympic gold medallist, Liesel Jones, agreed to be an ambassador for our campaign to urge the Australian Government to maintain and increase its position against whaling on welfare grounds.

As you are hopefully aware, Liesel is here today to present over 15,000 petition signatures to Minister Garrett but before I hand over to Liesel to do that I would just like to say a few brief words of thanks to the Australian Government for their leading conservation efforts at this years meeting. Australia has taken an extremely bold and tangible step to promote the protection of whales at this years IWC meeting. It has pledged $1.5 million Australian to the IWC to advance its conservation work and it has tabled a progressive and holistic proposal to achieve this work in the form of conservation plans. WSPA applauds this excellent initiative and we hope that Australia's vision for the future of the IWC will soon be embraced by all of its members.

We would also like to congratulate Australia on the establishment of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership which is an international research initiative using non-lethal research methods to increase our understanding of these amazing animals. The research partnership will show us that it is simply not necessary to kill whales in order to study them. Our understanding of whales and their protection can go hand in hand.

Now, we've just heard from IFAW based on their excellent report and I would commend IFAW on the fantastic work that they have done and the sound science that is being done at the IWC, we still firmly believe that well managed whale watching is the most humane sustainable and economically important use of whales in the 21st century.

Here in Madeira, an island which until the mid-1980's supported a whaling industry - we only have to look out the meeting room industry to see a vibrant whale watching industry. In Madeira, Australia, and as we now know 117 other countries around the world, whale watching is being enjoyed by millions of people and of course you can watch a whale countless times but you can only kill it once.

We call on the Government of Australia to continue its excellent work in leading the modernisation of the IWC's view of whales. These are not simply stocks to be harvested like fields of corn, they are sentient, individual animals. They are generators of inspiration and respect for nature and they are charismatic symbols of our global environment.

I would now like to hand over to Liesel for her to pass on her message on behalf of the Australian people.

JONES: Thank you. I am here in Madeira basically not only as an ambassador for the World Society for the Protection of Animals but also as a voice of over 10,000 Australian's who also believe that there is no humane way to kill a whale.

I certainly agree that it is absolutely horrendous the way these whales are killed. Whalers are using harpoons that are over centuries old and some of these whales are taking over an hour to die and I think it is just disgraceful. So I have come here to Madeira to voice the opinions of many Australians. We are certainly very pleased with how the Australian Government has been handling this situation and I think that they made a very, very strong point this morning with our opinions.

So I have come here to present Mr Peter Garrett with a poster with 10,000 signatures on it - we had so many signatures that we couldn't even fit them all on the poster. So we are very, very pleased and I would like to present that to you now.

So each one of these names represent an individual Australian who signed the petition - we have about 10,000 signatures on here but we have got about 15,000 signatures so we are very pleased with the result. So thank you.

And here is every individual letter and a shirt that we received. So please take that home with you.

That is just a bit of reading material for you when you go home.

GARRETT: Look thank you very much Claire and thank you Liesel as well.

nd how terrific to see one of our great Australian sportspeople standing up for these whales.

And I do want to reaffirm the Australian Government's very strong commitment not only to the Southern Ocean Research Partnership - a collaborative research partnership which we have invited other countries to join with us in which says that we can learn and understand about these animals in a non-lethal way. We say that very clearly that you do not have to kill whales in order to understand them and that we can find and work very cooperatively with other countries in a joint scientific endeavour to increase our knowledge and understanding about these animals.

We're committed to the humane treatment of whales and I was very pleased that we were able to bring forward to the Commission a number of proposals which we think are absolutely necessary to be considered in order for the Commission to modernise itself and become a truly 21st century conservation organisation. And we're very, very aware of the strong feelings that many, many people in Australia have about this issue, Liesel, and it is a real pleasure for me to be able to accept the petition, to take the various gifts that you have brought to me, and to assure you that this government remains absolutely resolute in what we think are the right policy goals both at the IWC and also in our interactions and in our work in the region and more widely.

I think that non government organisation have always played a critical and important role in focusing attention on issues for governments to consider and I very much welcome not only the opportunity to participate with IFAW but with WSPA as well and I commend you with your work and I wish you well into the future.

GARRETT: Happy to take any questions that you might have before we break for the luncheon period. About five minutes folks if there is anything else people want to raise.

JOURNALIST: Can I start with just a question, the fact there is such expansion in the growth of whale watching, that is a question for Patrick and also Claire. The welfare aspects of that, what is the increasing pressure mean for whales? Are you confident that whale watching globally is well managed? Is there a variable picture and what changes would you like to see?

RAMAGE: Well I think, Andrew, very significantly from location to location and the matter of ensuring responsible, sustainable whale watching is explored at some depth in the full copy of the IFAW report.

And the last thing that we want to be doing is in people's enthusiasm for seeing these animals and entrepreneurs enthusiasm for reaping the very sustainable profits from the industry, is to be impacting negatively on the whales or the marine environment.

With that in mind IFAW has sponsored a series of workshops and training.

Other organisations of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, have undertaken similar efforts, working with networks of operators, governments, and individual whale watching operations in critical locations to raise standards and ensure a high level as this industry continues to develop.

But it is quite individual and explored country by country in the detailed report.

Claire, Vass?

BASS: Yeah I would only add to that that it is quite clear that whale watching is most humane and well managed when guidelines are actually underpinned by legislation and I think that we have a case right on our doorstep here in Madeira where I think forthcoming is legislation to underpins the guidelines which are currently implemented. So we certainly encourage more countries to take that forward.

PAPASTAVROU: Maybe the only thing I would add to that is that there is actually a very bid problem in trying to look at the long term effects of whale watching so your question fundamentally might be is if we whale watch on a population are we effecting its vital parameters? And that is very hard to determine. What is much easier to determine is what the welfare implications might be for the whales in the short term. And so essentially there is a very strong link between welfare and conservation - if you don't disrupt the behaviour of the whales in the short term then you are much likely to have a conservation impact in the long term.

So to phrase it simply, whale watching should be done in a way which is nice for whales. They should control the nature and duration of the interaction, they should have sufficient time to carry on with their normal activities and so on.

JOURNALIST: Is there international guidelines for whale watching itself [inaudible]?

PAPASTAVROU: Essentially there is no one size that fits all. The IWC when it looked at the issue developed a framework for putting together guidelines. So what might be appropriate for a bottle nosed dolphin isn't necessary appropriate for an even closely related animal and certainly not for a blue whale for example, for obvious reasons. So guidelines have to be developed on a case by case basis but I mean the general principle is that the whale or the dolphin should control the nature and duration of the interaction, so you don't chase the, you don't herd them, you allow them to determine how long the interaction should be.

ENDS

Commonwealth of Australia