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

12 December 1999


Australian tourists heading off to countries such as the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Fiji have been warned not to come home with souvenirs made from whale parts.

Environment Minister Robert Hill says Australian Customs officers have seized an increasing number of whale products in the past 12 months from tourists returning to Australia.

"The items include whale teeth and elaborate carvings made of whale teeth or bone. They are made from species such as Humpback Whales, Gray Whales, Southern Right Whales and Killer Whales," Senator Hill said.

"Many of the whale products originate from northern Canada and Alaska, where the indigenous Inuit people are permitted to hunt a limited number of whales for sustenance and as part of cultural ceremonies. The bones and teeth are then, in most cases, carved and sold to tourists.

"While it may be legal to purchase these items in the USA and Canada, all whale species are protected under the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 and imports of any products into Australia from whales, dolphins and porpoises are prohibited.

"An area of particular concern is that many tourists are falsely being told the products they are purchasing are fossilised. A recent example was a whale bone carving which the owner was told was fossilised, but which still had pieces of dried flesh attached to it.

"Truly fossilised bones are mineralised, with the calcium replaced by minerals. The fossilised bones are no longer considered animal products and import permits are not required."

Senator Hill said whale products being bought into Australia, including souvenirs, will be seized by the Australian Customs Service.

Travellers wanting more information on wildlife trade permits or the international wildlife trade should ask their travel agent for a copy of Environment Australia's Buying Wildlife Products? brochure, contact Environment Australia on (02) 6274 2292, or visit their web site at

Contacts: Rod Bruem (Senator Hill) (02) 6277 7640 or 0419 258 364
Anne-Marie Delahunt (Environment Australia) (02) 6274 2240

Commonwealth of Australia