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

Southern Ocean Research Partnership; Japanese whaling

Doorstop interview
Launch of the first voyage of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership
Queen's Wharf, Wellington
30 January 2010

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JOURNALIST: Minister Garrett, do you believe that the Japanese will change their stance on lethal whaling?

GARRETT: Look the significance of today is that for the first time we have a research project, the largest of its kind in the world, which places a premium on scientific knowledge and says that we don't have to kill whales in order to understand them and to learn about them.

And what that means is that the actions that are taken by some countries through the International Whaling Commission of reserving the right to take a certain number of whales in the name of science, which Australia has long contested and opposed, can also now be seen in the light of what we see as the much more productive and beneficial way of deepening our understanding about these creatures and the environment that they inha

We remain absolutely and completely opposed to killing whales in the name of science. And we are extending an invitation to participate in what is a multi-national, whale research program to other countries, including Japan, to join us. And my very, very strong hope is that the tremendous uptake that we have already seen from other countries, will be recognised by those that have not yet decided to join us

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, just the last few weeks we have seen the increasing confrontations down in the whaling zone. Appreciate that you're working on the scientific side, but the public focus is really on those conservation boats, the Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace and everything else. What are you doing on that side?

GARRETT: Well Greenpeace haven't been in the Southern Ocean for a number of seasons, that is the first thing to say. And the second thing to say is that whilst we have always respected the right of peaceful protest on land or on sea, the fact is that notwithstanding a range of different activities that have taken place in the Southern Ocean in protest over past years, the number of whales that have been targeted by the Japanese in their program, has more than doubled. And for the previous Australian government, who contested this issue in the IWC by banging the table and doing very little else, the challenge in histories term is clear, ‘what did you actually do that saw the numbers of whales targeted reduced’?

Now what we say is that this requires a mix of measures for countries to adopt. Australia has adopted a mix of measures which include intensive diplomacy, bringing a reform agenda to the IWC itself, delivering significant resources and leadership through the Southern Ocean Research Partnership.

And I warmly welcome the fact that I am here to launch this partnership with Minister Mapp today in New Zealand. The two countries work closely together on a range of issues and it is beaut that we are working closely on this one as well. And we will continue with that engagement from this day on.

JOURNALIST: Will the evidence that you will be provided by the research actually help to bolster a case potentially for a legal case against Japan, if required?

GARRETT: The Australian Government dispatched the Oceanic Viking to the Southern Ocean several whaling seasons previously, with a view to collecting material for a potential legal action. The Southern Ocean Research Partnership is not intended for that purpose at all. This is a scientific research endeavour, a cooperative scientific research endeavour. It operates in part through the IWC scientific committee processes, the results run themselves back into the IWC as you saw in the presentation, as well as out to the broader scientific community.

JOURNALIST: But it could still be used in a legal action if necessary?

GARRETT: It is not the purpose of this scientific project and research enterprise to collect evidence on the part of any potential legal action. Its purpose was laid out clearly in my speech and in what the chief scientist here has said in the presentation. And it is peer reviewed, science based research endeavour, agreed by collaborative scientists working in different nations and auspiced through the scientific committee of the IWC.

JOURNALIST: Does that make it rather more valuable than the Japanese research which is similar research and has no peer review or [inaudible]?

GARRETT: Well I will leave it to scientists to make judgements about the relative validities of the science that has been produced on this matter, but I would say one thing: Australia recognises that by working with other countries collaboratively, by investing significantly in scientific research, we provide the foundations for evidence based policy making, as well as a deeper understanding about the issues that are being addressed.

JOURNALIST: Dr Nicol, is it nerve wracking knowing the spotlight that will be on you and the non-lethal research that you don't want anything to go wrong, you don't want any whales to die by mistake in the process of what you are doing because of what you are going down there to set out to do?

DR STEVE NICOL, AUSTRALIAN ANTARCTIC DIVISION: It is obviously very nerve wracking when you set out to do something completely novel like this. It is a high risk operation because you are trying to do so many new things. But at the same time the rewards are very high. The spotlight will be on the researchers who will be on this vessel and I think it is going to be – even if only part of what we aim to do on this voyage succeeds - it will still be a roaring success.

I think the science that can come out of this will be important not just for better understanding whales but also for understanding how the Southern Ocean ecosystem works and that's a very important thing when you think of the global influence that the Southern Ocean ecosystem has on climate for instance and on fisheries in the region.

JOURNALIST: Will the boat be in the same area as the whalers and will you be able to keep an eye on what they're doing?

NICOL: I am afraid I don't know where the whalers are.

JOURNALIST: Another thing, I talked to the Japan Institute of Research today and they said that their opinion was unchanged, it was philosophical and proving for example checking how many times a whale has been pregnant or certain specific things can't be shown unless they are killed. So what do you have to say to that because right now it seems that the research that you are doing is following and checking their behaviour and things like that? In terms of more concrete things like that, how are you going to prove that that can be done?

NICOL: The research that we are setting out to do as part of this voyage is not specifically to prove that we don't need to kill whales, it is set out to examine really important aspects of the ecology of whales and by doing that we will be using non-lethal techniques and these are the best techniques that are available to actually study the role of whales in the ecosystem. So the research results we will get out of this will be vitally important for understanding the biology of whales and understanding the role of whales in the ecosystem.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GARRETT: I am very confident that the combined expertise of the scientists that are involved in the Southern Ocean Research Partnership will enable them to both increase and deepen their knowledge about cetaceans generally and specifically to fill the gaps in knowledge that may hitherto exist. And I am very confident that with clever use of existing technologies, with innovation, collaboration and applying high levels of intellectual rigour to the process, that we will be able to have a sufficiently deep learning and understanding about cetaceans without having to kill them.

JOURNALIST: Dr Mapp, why is this expedition so important in relation to what has happened already so far this year with the Sea Shepherd and the Japanese?

THE HON DR WAYNE MAPP, NEW ZEALAND MINISTER FOR RESEARCH, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AND MINISTER FOR DEFENSE: Well clearly the expedition does have an exemplar effect. It is the demonstration that you can do comprehensive research on a non-lethal basis. That is one of the reasons why it is being reported to the totality of the International Whaling Commission and as you know right at the moment there is a study group that is looking at a way of using diplomacy to try and resolve this issue. Well, this particular research helps bolster the case for that. They are connected and that's why the presentations will made at the full forum later this year.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any conversations with Japanese officials about this research and how important it is to this particular part of the group?

MAPP: Well the Japanese Government will be well aware of the nature of the research and as Mr Garrett said they are welcome to join actually, and we would like to see them do that. I think as a deeper understanding is gained in fact, some of the cases that have been put up as to why certain types of research might mean killing whales will actually be able to be disproved. I mean this is obviously about gaining information but it is also actually about demonstrating to other members of the IWC that you can do comprehensive research without killing whales.

JOURNALIST: Dr Mapp, conservationists though have always said that the reason the Japanese kill whales is for commercial and for cultural reasons, not for scientific reasons at all. So this won't make any difference to that?

MAPP: Well the case by the Japanese of course is that they would say ‘scientific’ whaling. So it is important for New Zealand and Australia who have always been opposed to that concept to demonstrate by our research that it is actually not necessary.

JOURNALIST: Dr Mapp just two weeks ago the Prime Minister said that he would be asking Hilary Clinton to broker a deal, has anything come of that?

MAPP: Well there is currently a talk going on in Honolulu at the moment amongst 12 nations. Clearly diplomacy is going to take some time. There is a fair bridge to be [inaudible]. But we are determined to put that effort in. Because I actually everyone can see the current situation is simply not acceptable actually, really for anyone involved. So we are putting maximum effort into diplomacy backed up by this kind of research to achieve really a much better situation which will in fact improve the overall relationship between our countries [inaudible].

[ENDS]

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