Australia Wants Japanese Whalers Out
of Whale Sanctuary
CANBERRA, Australia, December 20, 2007 (ENS) - With less than
three weeks in office, the new Australian government is planning
diplomatic and legal action against Japan's so-called "research"
whaling. Much Japanese whaling takes place in the Australian Whale
Sanctuary in the Southern Ocean, where the Japanese whaling fleet
is right now, pursuing whales.
Peter Garrett is Australia's new
environment minister (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Taking a stronger stand
than the previous government, which also opposed Japanese
whaling, Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Foreign
Minister Stephen Smith said Wednesday that Australia will
send planes and a ship to conduct surveillance of Japanese
whaling ships and gather photo and video evidence in
preparation for legal action.
Smith said, "It'll be surveillance, not enforcement or
interdiction or intervention for the purposes of that
surveillance, the customs boarding party will not be armed,
and the Ocean Viking will not be armed."
Meanwhile, in the next few days the Australian government
will formally urge Japan to end the slaughter of whales in
the Southern Ocean.
"We are dealing here with the slaughter of whales, not
scientific research," Smith told a news conference. "That
is our start point and our end point."
Calling whaling a "senseless and brutal practice," the ministers
said a special envoy on whale conservation will be appointed to
convey Australia's views to Japan and increase and strengthen
dialogue at senior levels.
Stephen Smith is Australia's new
foreign minister. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
In Tokyo, they said,
Australia will lead a coalition of anti-whaling countries
in lodging a formal protest with the Japanese government.
In addition, Garrett and Smith said they will "directly
register their concerns with their Japanese counterparts."
Japanese whaling vessels have already reached the Southern
Ocean and the Japanese government has announced a
self-imposed quota of up to 935 minke whales, 50
vulnerable humpback whales and 50 endangered fin whales in
its largest-ever "research" whale hunt.
In 1986, the International Whaling Commission, IWC,
imposed a moratorium on all commercial whaling to give the
13 species of great whales a chance to recover from over a
century of whaling that brought many species close to
The moratorium is still in effect, but the IWC allows member
governments to grant special "scientific" permits to catch whales.
Japan has issued scientific permits every year since the
moratorium took effect.
While Australia "values its extensive and mutually beneficial
relationship with Japan," the ministers said, "Australia strongly
believes that there is no credible scientific justification for
the hunting of whales and is opposed to all commercial and 'scientific'
"One of the few issues on which we fundamentally disagree is
Japan's policy of undertaking so-called 'scientific whaling' in
the face of widespread opposition from the Australian and
international community," Smith and Garrett said.
The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo responds to
international opposition by arguing that current population
assessments are "out of date" and that there are many more whales
in the ocean than reported by the IWC and the IUCN-World
Dead minke whale is carved up aboard a
Japanese whaling vessel
(Photo courtesy Greenpeace UK)
Minoru Morimoto, director general of
the institute, says, "Japan's research makes a valuable
contribution to the management of Antarctic whale species to
ensure that any future commercial whaling regime is robust and
sustainable and that a take of 50 humpback whales would have no
impact on the population or the whale-watching industry."
Morimoto says the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists
humpback whales as Vulnerable, but points to the IUCN web page
showing that listing as "out of date" and the population trend as
He says the IWC Scientific Committee estimate of 42,000 humpback
whales applies to 1997-1998.
Using the Scientific Committee's estimate that the humpback whale
population is growing at 10 percent per year, Morimoto says, "It
would now be more than 2.5 times what it was at that time and more
than three times what it was when IUCN did their assessment."
The fin whale is listed by the IUCN Red List as Endangered, but
the listing is described as "out of date" because the population
assessment was done in 1996.
Nearly three-quarters of a million fin whales were reportedly
taken in the Southern Hemisphere alone between 1904 and 1979,
according IWC figures noted on the IUCN Red List.
The IUCN says, "Fin whales are rarely encountered today in those
areas of the Southern Hemisphere where they were taken in large
numbers. The species was classified as Endangered (under the 1996
categories and criteria) on the basis of an estimated decline of
at least 50 percent worldwide over the last three generations -
assumed generation time was 20–25 years.
The Australian ministers say the government led by Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd will "upgrade" efforts at the International Whaling
Commission, which holds its annual meeting next June in Santiago,
Garrett and Smith said, "The government will develop its own
proposal for improving and modernizing the IWC - which will
include closing the loophole that allows for scientific whaling."
The Humane Society International, HSI,
based in Australia welcomed the Rudd government's plan of action
against Japanese whaling.
"Sending a vessel down to monitor the hunt is a significant step
further than the previous government was prepared to take and we
hope it will signal to Japan that their disrespect for
international and Australian law to protect whales will no longer
be tolerated. However, it remains to be seen whether this action
will be sufficient to stop the hunt taking place," said Nicola
Beynon, HSI wildlife and habitat program manager.
The Japanese factory whaler Nisshin-Maru in the Southern Ocean.
(Photo courtesy Institute for
HSI is awaiting a ruling from the Australian Federal Court where
the organization is seeking an injunction to order that the hunt
in the Australian Whale Sanctuary be stopped.
The previous government had opposed the case due to the diplomatic
ramifications it could have with the Japanese government.
The Rudd government has withdrawn the previous government's
submission to the Federal Court , which expressed those concerns,
and asked the court to disregard the opposition of the previous
"If HSI is successful in securing an injunction, we and the
Australian public will be expecting the government to enforce it,"
In its pre-election platform, the newly elected Australian Labor
Party gave commitments to enforce an injunction if it is issued.
"If they have a vessel in proximity to the whale hunt, they will
be well placed to do so," said Beynon. "This hunt cannot be
allowed to go ahead."
"There is very little that is new here," said Captain Paul Watson
from onboard the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin off the coast of
Antarctica. The ship is headed to the Southern Ocean to interrupt
the Japanese whale hunt.
"The Australian government is going to take some pictures of the
Japanese whalers killing whales but will do nothing to intervene
against the slaughter," said Watson. "This is simply more pictures,
more talk and more posturing, in short more of the same approaches
that have totally failed for the last 21 years."
Watson says Sea Shepherd members do not understand how Australia
can enforce fishing regulations against toothfish poachers from
Uruguay yet cannot intervene against the slaughter of the whales
in these same waters, "waters that are clearly marked on the
nautical charts as part of the Australian Economic Exclusion
"This new approach clearly has the approval of the government,
particularly the Japanese government with whom Australia most
likely consulted for the proper and acceptable wording," said
Watson. "Our response to Australia's announcement of their plan to
protect the whales is to drop the camera and pick up your guns and
enforce the bloody laws, mate."