AAD gains new responsibilities for whales

In mid-2003, the Australian Government transferred the responsibility for a high-profile international policy from Canberra to the Australian Antarctic Division: the policy of pursuing global protection for whale species.

Australia has promoted and supported an international ban on commercial whaling for a quarter of a century – since Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser announced on 4 April 1979 that whaling would end in Australian waters, and that in future, Australia would seek an international ban. Australia's opposition to commercial whaling applies equally to whaling conducted for commercial purposes under the guise of lethal 'scientific' research. This policy enjoys a high level of public support in Australia.

Interested members of the community include researchers based at universities and research centres around the country, and non-Government organisations that attend regular consultative forums.

The AAD is already actively developing non-lethal techniques to examine the ecology of marine mammals. These include innovative methods for studying the diets of whales that are more reliable than 'scientific whaling' – in particular by examining DNA traces in faeces, without even touching the animals. Now, the AAD is leading Australia's input to the primary forum for discussing the conservation and management of whales, the International Whaling Commission.

The 56th annual meeting of the IWC will take place in Sorrento, Italy in June–July 2004. Major Australian contributions to the meeting will include research to inform the review of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary (established in 1994), the proposal for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary (co-sponsored by Australia and New Zealand), and the inaugural meeting of a new Conservation Committee of the IWC.

The next edition of Australian Antarctic Magazine will report on the outcomes of the International Whaling Commission meeting and other events related to whales.

Stephen Powell, Antarctic and International Policy, AAD