Call to challenge Japanese whalers

The slaughter of 50 humpbacks by Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters this summer could destroy Australia’s $300million a year whale-watching eco-tourism industry, a global conservation group has warned.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare says if humpback whales are hunted down and killed by Japanese whaling vessels, they are likely to avoid close contact with boats and flee when approached.

This could end successful whale-watching cruises in areas such as Narooma, where playful humpbacks attract thousands of tourists each year during spring.

“These humpback whales have been born in Australian waters and have had a non-threatening relationship with boats,” the fund’s Asia-Pacific director, Mick McIntyre, said.

“They’ve become habituated to the presence of whale-watching boats while migrating along Australia’s eastern coast and have no reason to fear them.

“But if pods of animals are harassed and killed in Antarctic waters this summer, their behaviour is likely to change.”

South Coast whale-watching operators have also voiced concerns about the impact of Japan’s proposed humpback harvest on a regional industry estimated to bring in about $6million a year in tourism revenue to Narooma and Eden.

Narooma Charters captain Norm Ingersole said people loved the whales.

“They’re a huge tourist attraction for the town, and some people even plan their holidays around the whale-watching season,” he said.

“We’ve just taken an entire wedding party out on a whale-watching cruise. We’ve got another group that’s booked to go out every day for the next eight days.”

Local cruise operators can identify individual humpback whales from distinctive markings, and have seen the same whales swimming south every spring for well over a decade.

“The thought some of these ocean friends could suddenly go missing this summer is a bit hard to take,” he said.

The Japanese Government’s controversial “scientific” whaling research program has been expanded, with 50 humpback whales to be killed in Antarctic waters this summer as part of an overall quota of about 1000 whales.

The hunt, which provides whale meat for commercial markets in Japan, is allowed under a loophole in International Whaling Commission regulations which grants special permits for scientific research.

It will be the first time humpback whales, which are classified by the World Conservation Union as a globally endangered species, have been hunted and killed since a global whaling ban was enforced 20 years ago.

Mr McIntyre said, “The time for diplomacy is well and truly over.

“The reality is in two months’ time, Japanese whalers will be killing the humpback whales that are the mainstay of Australia’s whale-watching industry.”

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who banned whaling in Australian waters in 1979, signed an open letter to Prime Minister John Howard recently, calling for him to challenge Japan’s plans to hunt humpback whales.

The letter, coordinated by the fund, has 60 signatures, including 14 mayors, 11 leading whale research scientists, experts in international law, economists, whale-watching industry representatives and four remaining ex-whalers from Australia’s last whaling station in Albany, Western Australia.

“The Australian Government can stop this hunt,” Mr McIntyre said.

“Japan has been allowed to ride roughshod over international treaties and laws for too long.

“We have obtained advice from a panel of six experts in international law and there are clear indications that Japan’s whaling program is in breach of the international Antarctic Treaty.”

Source: Canberra Times