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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment


5 July 1998

Australia will ensure it remains at the forefront of efforts to stop the killing of whales by hosting the 52nd annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in 2000.

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill says the Commission's acceptance of Australia's offer to host the meeting confirms our status as a world leader in whale conservation.

Senator Hill says the meeting will allow Australia to continue its push for a global whale sanctuary.

"Up to 500 representatives from the 40 member nations of the International Whaling Commission will attend the meeting.

"This meeting will be an ideal opportunity for the Commission to move on from being a body which manages whaling, to being a body concerned solely with their conservation.

"There is already significant momentum building behind our proposal for a global sanctuary. Australia and New Zealand are currently working with the nations of the South Pacific on a proposal for a whale sanctuary in their region as a stepping stone to the global sanctuary.

"Holding the meeting in Australia will also give us the opportunity to showcase our growing whale-watching industry. Figures indicate that more than half-a-million people go whale-watching in Australia each year, adding an estimated $10 million to regional economies."

Senator Hill says the Howard government is backing its commitment to conserving whales with financial support for important studies of whales.

"We have strongly opposed so-called scientific whaling because we argue that you don't have to kill whales to study them.

"We are backing up that belief with the announcement today of $1.6 million being set aside from the Natural Heritage Trust to fund whale research projects.

"Some of the world's most endangered whale species, including the blue and southern right whales, are found in Australian waters.

"These projects will help the world's understanding of these magnificent creatures and give us an insight into what needs to be done to ensure the future health of their populations."

Contact: Matt Brown (Senator Hill) 02 6277 7640 or 0419 693 515
July 5, 1998 (72/98) A list of whale research projects funded is attached.

Whale Conservation Projects

Project Title: Right whale monitoring, Western Australia
Partner: Western Australian Museum
Funding: $26 758
The project will use aerial surveys and photos to monitor and assess the long-term recovery of the endangered southern right whale along the south-western coastline of Australia between the Head of the Great Australian Bight, SA and Cape Leeuwin, WA. Monitoring population increases and trends will be critical in detecting changes associated with impacts on both the Antarctic feeding grounds and warm water breeding areas off the Australian coast. Australian right whale monitoring programs have revealed a slow but so far steady recovery rate of 10 per cent for this species in our waters. Continuation of this work has been recommended by the International Whaling Commission.

Project Title: Ecology and behaviour of southern right whales, Head of Bight, South Australia
Partner: Eubalaena Pty Ltd
Funding: $11 200
The Head of the Great Australian Bight is one of the two main areas in the world where southern right whales congregate. Photographs of individual whales and behavioural data collection will be used for the eighth consecutive year to provide information on population ecology, reproductive biology and pattens of usage essential to the recovery of the southern right whale. The project will provide long-term information on the life history and biology of this species. The work is being done in close collaboration with other southern right whale research programs in Australia and other Southern Hemisphere countries. The project has received international recognition for its contribution to local, regional and international cetacean management and conservation questions.

Project Title: Investigation of blue whales off Perth, Western Australia
Partner: Western Australian Museum
Funding: $40 000
The project, located in one of very few known areas of blue whale concentration in Australian waters, will make significant progress towards determining the recovery of this endangered species since whaling ended. The project will determine species identity, that is, whether the whales are pygmy blue whales or true blue whales; distribution and numbers of whales in the area; reproductive and feeding activity; and seasonal patterns. The methods to be used include aerial surveys; small-boat based operations; and aerial measurements using photography.

Project Title: Feeding ecology of two species of baleen whales in southern Australian shelf waters, [Tasmania and Victoria]
Partner: Australocetus Research
Funding: $14 160
The project will provide information of global significance in understanding and managing the highly endangered blue whale and its habitat. For those blue whales that remain, an understanding of their requirements for breeding and feeding is needed to ensure the best chance of their continued existence. This study focuses on a known area of blue whale seasonal presence and will provide critical information for the species in Australian waters. The project will use the results of an existing oceanographic study to determine relationships between whale distribution, oceanographic features, whale prey items and other environmental factors.

Project Title: Southern Ocean Sanctuary pelagic [open ocean] ecosystem monitoring (SOPEM), cetacean component
Partner: Environment Australia
Funding: $80 000
The project researchers will address major questions concerning abundance, distribution, feeding ecology, migration patterns and the likely long-term effects of environmental change on cetaceans. Researchers travel on Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition voyages, working closely with the Antarctic Division's krill, oceanographic, sea ice and climate change programs. This is the only existing long-term research program on cetaceans in the Antarctic and has been acknowledged as contributing significant knowledge on the Antarctic ecosystem and as a model for similar programs by other Southern Hemisphere nations.

Project Title: Cetacean strandings in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary: sampling, data collection and analysis [Tasmania]
Partner: Australocetus Research
Funding: $18 500
The project involves attending all mass and single cetacean strandings around Tasmania and obtaining the maximum biological information from all dead animals. Samples are catalogued, archived and analysed. The researcher will also study the mass strandings of sperm whales in Tasmania in 1998, to better understand the biology and ecology of this species and the probable reasons for these strandings. Rarely-sighted and little-known species strand relatively frequently in Tasmania. The high incidence of cetacean strandings in Tasmania provides a unique resource and this project will collect rarely obtainable samples and data, contributing to global genetic and pollutant sample collections.

Project Title: Cetacean acoustic monitoring in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary
Partner: CSIRO Marine Laboratories
Funding: $52 000
This project, the first long-term acoustic monitoring of cetaceans in the Antarctic, will use automatic acoustic listening devices deployed with oceanographic monitoring buoys in a polynya (an area of water open all year) region near the Antarctic coast. There is little information on the relative importance and seasonal use of ice and open water habitats in the Southern Ocean, particularly during the winter. The newly developing acoustic technology can help researchers to collect this information. During 1998 a winter voyage (only the second ever undertaken in Australian Antarctic Territory waters) will provide a rare opportunity to obtain information on cetaceans in this season.

Commonwealth of Australia