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Southern Cross University opposes whaling program


Brigid Veale
14 April 2005
Southern Cross University's Whale Research Centre will be strongly opposing any moves by Japan to kill humpback whales as part of a new scientific whaling program.

Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre Director Associate Professor Peter Harrison said the Centre was absolutely opposed to any changes that would open the way for whaling of the humpback population to resume.

His comments follow reports by the Kyodo news agency that Japan will seek to kill two more species of whale in the Antarctic Ocean from later this year. It also follows comments by the Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell that Japan's proposed new scientific whaling program appeared to include humpback and fin whales, as well as minke whales.

Japan's proposal is expected to be outlined at the International Whaling Commission's next meeting in Korea in early June.

Professor Harrison said Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre would be closely monitoring any moves to change scientific permits to hunt humpbacks and fin whales.

"The humpback population that migrates up and down the East Coast of Australia is only now showing signs of ongoing increase, and has still not recovered from the impacts of whaling last century," Professor Harrison said.

"That population is estimated to have been up to 20,000-30,000 prior to whaling and fell to around 200-500 when whaling ceased in the 1960s. The latest estimates put the population at around 7000, and growing at about 11 per cent each year.

"While that increase is quite strong, there is still a long way to go until the population has recovered."

Professor Harrison said any resumption of whaling would seriously compromise the research on humpback whales that has been undertaken by researchers from the SCU Whale Research Centre since 1992.

Under current scientific permits, Japan is licensed to kill 440 Minke whales in the Antarctic for research purposes. It appears Japan intends to add humpback whales and fin whales to their revised Antarctic whaling program.

Professor Harrison said if humpbacks were included in this type of permit, it was likely the large, mature males and females would be targeted because of their size.

"They are the most important whales in ensuring the population increases because these large, sexually mature whales are the ones that are producing calves each year.

"There is also the danger that if humpbacks were targeted, whales such as our unique white humpback whale Migaloo could be killed as part of this type of activity.

"Resumed whaling would also threaten Australia's important whale watching industry which contributes about $300 million to our economy and involves more than 1.5 million whale watchers each year."

Southern Cross University's Whale Research Centre conducts an annual count of the humpback whale population as it migrates up the East Coast of Australia past Byron Bay each year. The Centre also conducts annual surveys of the humpback population in Hervey Bay and on the southern migration, as well as DNA testing and photographic identification.