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 extinction.

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' whaling."

"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 Conservation Union.



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 increasing.

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 2025 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, Chile.

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 Cetacean Research)

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 government.

"If HSI is successful in securing an injunction, we and the Australian public will be expecting the government to enforce it," said Benyon.

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 Zone."

"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."


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