Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Australian Antarctic Program, today expressed real disappointment that Japan had been found with a factory and chaser ships continuing “scientific whaling” activity in the Antarctic.

This follows a New Year’s Day meeting between the Australian research icebreaker Aurora Australis and Japanese whaling ships in waters within the Australian-claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near the coast of Australian Antarctic Territory.

Aurora was travelling west along the Antarctic coast on a rescue mission to reach another Australian ship, Polar Bird, stuck in the ice since early December in Prydz Bay. It came upon three Japanese whaling vessels, including a factory ship, early on New Year’s Day.

The Voyage Leader aboard the ship, Mr Greg Hodge, made radio contact with a whale chaser and its factory ship. The ships left the area in a northerly direction, and there was no further contact.

“Australia has been a driver behind the International Whaling Commission’s declaration of the Southern Ocean as a whale sanctuary, which aims to allow whale numbers to recover from last century’s whaling activity,” Dr Stone said.

“The Commission’s Scientific Committee has repeatedly condemned Japan’s so-called scientific research program as unnecessary.

“Australia is completely opposed to the hunting of whales, especially when under the guise of ‘science’. The whale meat ends up on Japanese dinner plates. We will continue to criticise any such whaling activities”, Dr Stone said.

“Scientists at the Australian Antarctic Division are contributing to the conservation of these giants of the sea by developing non-lethal methods for studying diet and physiology of whales at sea,” Dr Stone said.

“The time has long passed when you need to kill whales to study or try to conserve the species”.

Aurora Australis arrived in the vicinity of Polar Bird today, at the head of Prydz Bay off the Amery Ice Shelf. In the absence of a weather change causing the ice to break up naturally, Aurora will seek to free Polar Bird using its greater ice-breaking capability.