Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today responded to media reports that whaling operations in Iceland will continue and that Norway is considering a three-fold increase in the number of whales caught by its whaling fleet.

“This shows that, regrettably, commercial whaling is not yet a thing of the past,” Dr Kemp said.

“Reports that the Government of Iceland intends to continue its controversial so-called scientific whaling into a second year, and that the Norwegian Parliament has passed a resolution calling for a dramatic increase in its commercial whaling operation, are of great concern.

“This year marks the 25th anniversary of the end of whaling in Australian waters and last week our whale watching season was launched with news that the industry is growing faster than ever.

“Whale watching enterprises have grown from 42 boats, taking 140,000 tourists whale watching in 1993 to 290 boats carrying more than 1.6 million tourists last year.

“The direct economic benefits of whale watching in Australia add up to almost $30 million per year, while the indirect economic benefits are close to $300 million. This is a 15 per cent increase over the past five years, compared to the average international tourism market growth of 2.76 per cent and compares with the last year of commercial whaling in 1978/79 which brought in only revenues of $9.6 million in today’s terms.”

A resolution passed by the Norwegian Parliament last week called on the Government to increase its annual take of minke whales from under 700 to approximately 1800 whales in the near future.

“This commercial hunt, in defiance of the moratorium on global whaling, is already massive,” Dr Kemp said.

“Australia argues Norway should be planning to phase out their whaling program in favour of encouraging a whale watching industry, rather than contemplating tripling its size.”

Media reports yesterday described the Government of Iceland’s decision to continue with its scientific whaling program into a second year at a slightly lower level (25 minke whales) than in its first year (when it targeted 38 whales).

“At first glance, we might be somewhat relieved that Iceland is not undertaking the full-scale hunt of 250 whales per year that it threatened to embark upon at the last meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC),” Dr Kemp said.

“However, given that the IWC criticised the basis of Iceland’s program as technically deficient and scientifically unwarranted, it is disappointing that whaling will press ahead at all.

“While Australian Governments have honoured the transformation in people’s attitudes to whales over the past 25 years, it is clear that the task of protecting whales throughout the world is unfinished business.”