Outrage over Japan's plan to slaughter humpbacks
By Kerry-Anne Walsh
May 15, 2005
Breach of the peace ... if Japan's whaling extension is approved, the humpbacks that migrate from Antarctica to our waters each year will be killed for 'scientific purposes'.
Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Prime Minister John Howard and senior ministers are racing against the clock to stop a Japanese plan to slaughter the magnificent humpback whales which play in Australian waters every year.
With the International Whaling Commission (IWC) set to decide on the proposal in mid-June, Environment Minister Ian Campbell told The Sun-Herald the vote would be very close.
In a frank assessment of the possible outcome, Senator Campbell said Japan had recently been more successful in its lobbying of the commission's 55 member nations.
Japan has asked the IWC to approve an extension of its annual kill of 400 minke whales - which it says is for "scientific purposes" - to include the humpbacks.
The whales have become part of Australian life, delighting thousands with their antics off NSW beaches when they migrate from Antarctica each year.
If the IWC approves the expansion, the slaughter of the huge beasts would begin shortly in waters around Antarctica, which Australia claims as sovereign, but which Japan refuses to recognise.
Mr Howard raised the issue at talks in Japan two weeks ago.
At a meeting in Canberra last week, Senator Campbell left the Japanese Ambassador to Australia, Mr Hideaki Ueda, under no illusions about how the slaughter would be viewed by Australians.
"I said face-to-face to the Japanese [ambassador] that we have great respect between our two nations, but because they are going to target humpbacks that would be very bad for the way Japan is perceived by Australians," he said.
The minister acknowledged the whaling controversy would be a very difficult one to sort out. He said the Australian Government was determined to stop Japan's expansion plans and the new closeness of ties with Japan should be used to ensure "a good outcome for the whales".
Senator Campbell described as "obscene" and "insulting" the idea that nations could pretend to hunt whales for "scientific" purposes.
"Scientific whaling is a farce," he said. He added that Japan's plans would mobilise countries to help Australia not only stamp out whaling, but reform the structure of the IWC.
Labor issued a strong condemnation of Japan's plans, with foreign spokesman Kevin Rudd reminding Mr Howard that it was only last month the prime minister declared Australia had "no greater friend in Asia than Japan".
"It is now time to use that friendship, Mr Howard," he said.
ALP environment spokesman Anthony Albanese described it as "outrageous" that, at a time when the Government said it had its closest-ever relationship with Japan, it was not doing everything possible to stop the planned increase in whaling.
The president of marine mammal rescue and research organisation Orrca, Ronny Ling, said news of the bid was "very disturbing."
"These animals are protected in Australian waters," Mr Ling said.
"They claim [they want to hunt them] for scientific reasons, but the meat ends up in Japanese fish markets."
He said the proposed increase in culling could reverse recent improvements in the humpback population.
"When you throw in problems such as pollution and increased boat traffic, one other thing can tip the scale the other way."
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Australia could not legally board Japanese whaling vessels in Antarctic waters to stop their whaling because it could be seen as piracy.
FACTS ABOUT THE WHALE
Identifiable by its long fins, black skin with white patches and large bumps on its head.
Can grow to a length of 18 metres, and to 40 tonnes.
The southern hemisphere species is protected in Australian waters and migrates from the waters of the Antarctic each year to give birth in the tropical waters off northern Queensland.
It has a 12-month pregnancy.
It has no teeth and feeds on krill and schools of small fish by taking in large mouthfuls of water.
Source: Australian Museum Online and NPWS.