Researchers back moves to monitor whaling fleet

Published 20 December 2007

Southern Cross University has welcomed the federal government’s decision to monitor the activities of Japan’s whaling fleet in the Antarctic and to consider international legal challenges.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, announced yesterday that a ship and aircraft would be sent to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

An aircraft, operated by the Australian Antarctic Division, and a Customs patrol boat will be sent to collect information on the whaling activities. The Australian Government will also lead a coalition of anti-whaling countries in lodging a formal protest with the Japanese Government and consider the options for international legal action.

“This is a very welcome and timely move by the government and will ensure that we have accurate information on the activities of Japan’s whaling fleet,” Associate Professor Peter Harrison, director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre said.

“This is part of a broader strategy which is leading towards an international legal challenge under the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“This is clearly the only way to protect Australian humpback whales, and also endangered fin whales and minke whales, in our territorial waters in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

Japan’s whaling fleet has already set sail for the Antarctic where it will target 50 Australian humpback whales, 935 minke and 50 fin whales as part of its ‘scientific’ whaling program.

Professor Harrison said there was a growing international opposition to the whaling program, which was in reality commercial scale whaling masquerading as science.

“There is absolutely no excuse for ‘scientific whaling’. The International Whaling Commission has consistently stated that it does not require the information that the Japanese continue to claim they are gaining,” he said.

“The long-term research we are conducting at the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre provides all the necessary genetic data on the humpback population and clearly highlights the importance of non-lethal whale research.”

Funded by an Australian Research Council grant in collaboration with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the project will provide a new and non-invasive way of determining the age of whales, using data on 3,000 whales that have been photo-identified and more than 1,000 sloughed skin samples of these whales.

“Combined with our photo-identification research we will be able to provide extensive data on whale populations, their relationships and behaviour patterns,” Professor Harrison said.

“The hunt now under way by Japan in the Antarctic, which could target the larger breeding humpbacks, poses a real threat to our ongoing research. It also poses a threat to Australia’s $350 million whale watching industry.

“We are encouraged by the strong stance being taken by the federal government and will continue to support moves to bring an end to whaling.”

Photo: Associate Professor Peter Harrison on board the School of Environmental Science and Management's research vessel 'Seahorse'. Photo courtesy of the Australian Research Council. Photographer: Norman Plant.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.