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Media Release
Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

24 April 2001

Major boost for South Pacific Whale Sanctuary following Regional Forum

The nine species of great whales, decimated in the southern hemisphere in the 19th and 20th centuries, are one step closer to a permanent species saving sanctuary, following a 2 day regional forum held in Apia, Samoa last week. The meeting resolved to continue to back Australia's call for a Whale Sanctuary in the South Pacific, at the International Whaling Commission meeting in London this July.

Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, led the Australian delegation and argued the case with Ministers and representatives from American Samoa, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tuvalu, Tokelau and Wallis and Futuna.

"The South Pacific is the breeding ground for nine species of great whales that are an important part of the natural and cultural heritage of Pacific Islanders, New Zealanders and Australians", Sharman Stone said.

"While these huge mammals are of cultural significance and are an important part of the eco-system, whale watching is also potentially of real economic significance".

"The local tourist industry has been given a major boost from whale-watching in recent years. This is giving the economies of countries like the Kingdom of Tonga a shot in the arm and providing opportunities and investment for South Pacific nations. The King of Tonga proclaimed a whale sanctuary in their economic zone in 1978 and have seen whale visits increasing yearly".

"The meeting in Apia unanimously resolved to give 'in-principle' support to Australia and New Zealand's submission to the International Whaling Commission's meeting in July to establish a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary".

This was despite strong representation from Japan, who argued that whales eat commercially important fish species, for example, tuna.

"Some of these small island nations depend on tuna fishing for their economic survival. Any representation that suggests whales eat tuna quite naturally causes these countries serious concerns", Sharman Stone said.

"However the scientific evidence presented was from the Western Hemisphere, extremely limited and inconclusive".

The Regional Forum's Secretariat presented a synopsis of the relevant research available which showed that the best evidence was that whales breeding do not feed on tuna and virtually all survive on krill, or giant squid - non commercial fishing species.

A Whale Sanctuary in the South Pacific needs the support of at least 75% of delegates at the International Whale Commission's meeting. The same proposal received the support of more than half of the delegates at last years meeting in Adelaide but just fell short of the necessary numbers to have the sanctuary proposal ratified. Caribbean countries, in particular, failed to support the proposal.

"Unfortunately the Solomon Islands is the only South Pacific country that is a member of the IWC. The prohibitive cost of IWC membership for countries with small economies is an impediment to their inclusion and participation", Sharman Stone said.

"This issue was also discussed at the workshop".

"The clear message from South Pacific nations is that we want to protect these magnificent mammals as they breed in our part of the world. It is now up to other countries that abstained or voted against the proposal in Adelaide, to recognise the importance of protecting whales from unsustainable harvesting for the benefit of the cultural, environmental and economic well being of the South Pacific".

Dr Stone said that she was grateful for the support of environmental organisations including Greenpeace, the World Conservation Union, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Humane Society International and particularly the Pacific Youth Caucus on the Environment, at the Apia meeting.

"In addressing the inaugural Pacific Youth Caucus on the Environment last week in Wollongong, I stressed the importance of establishing a sanctuary for whales in the South Pacific. At the conclusion of their week long meeting the group of young people from 15 Pacific nations drafted a resolution supporting the sanctuary, that was read out to delegates at the Samoan meeting".

"Commercial whaling countries need to respect the wishes and aspirations of South Pacific countries when next Australia and New Zealand call once again for a sanctuary for our region at the IWC meeting", Sharman Stone said.

"Today, only one quarter of whale species including the sperm, hunchback and right whales remain in the South Pacific after being hunted for much of the last two centuries. We must reverse the destruction of the past and encourage better understanding of the species through the development of eco-tourism opportunities in the region".

"Australia has contributed over $250,000 to research into great whale migration routes, habitat requirements and whale watching development in the South Pacific. This work is being undertaken in co-operation with several countries and territories".

For further information please contact:
Simon Frost 0419 495 468
April 24th 2001

Commonwealth of Australia