The Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, today attacked Japan and Iceland over plans to increase the slaughter of whales under the guise of scientific research.

He called on Japan and Iceland to abandon the practice, which next year will result in the killing of about 850 whales of various species.

“This generation has a responsibility to rebuild the health of the world’s oceans,” Senator Campbell said. “Saving whales is an iconic representation of that work.

“Killing whales in the name of science is an affront to science. It is not science — it is commercial slaughter.”

Senator Campbell made the call as member nations of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) were meeting in Sorrento, Italy. Australia is represented by Dr Conall O'Connell, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environment and Heritage.

Senator Campbell said that since Australia abandoned whaling 25 years ago, the population of humpbacks in its coastal waters had grown from an estimated 500 to at least 10,000.

While some species, such as humpback whales, appeared to be increasing well, other species such as blue whales were still estimated to be less than one per cent of their original numbers.

Senator Campbell said Japan each year took approximately 700 whales of various species under the IWC’s “scientific whaling” exemption and he was alarmed to learn that Japan is to increase this number to over 800 next year.

Norway also was likely to take 670 minke whales this year under its reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling and has submitted this week a plan to more than double its hunt. Iceland would target 25 minke whales this year and has not ruled out expanding its program.

“Commercial whaling continues to expand in the face of the moratorium, despite repeated requests from the IWC for the practice to end,” Senator Campbell said.

“Australia will play its role at this year’s meeting to encourage whaling nations to stop whaling. Our own history is proof that this is not only possible, but also beneficial.”

He said a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, submitted to this year’s IWC meeting by Australia, estimated that whale watching in Australia attracted 1.6 million tourists last year — double that number in 1998. Direct revenue in that period grew from $16m to $29m. Indirect revenue was estimated to have increased from $77m to $276m, driven mainly by land based whale watching, primarily at Cape Byron on the New South Wales coast.