Australia has led a high level international group of 15 countries to raise concerns directly with the Japanese Government about its proposed increased whale catch in Antarctic waters.

The delegation, led by Australia’s Ambassador to Japan, obtained a meeting with Japan’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Tokyo. Other countries represented in this diplomatic strategy — called a 'demarche’ — were: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. A similar delegation will meet Japan’s Fisheries Agency next week.

The group told Japan all these countries were extremely disappointed with Japan’s reported plan to substantially increase its whale catch in Antarctic waters commencing next year.

Australia and its International Whaling Commission (IWC) colleagues told the Japanese Government that its scientific whaling is unjustified and unnecessary. All countries strongly urged Japan to cease its lethal research on whales.

The Australian Government believes it is particularly worrying that Japan proposes to double its take of minke whales and also take humpback and fin whales.

The Australian Government’s position is it is simply not necessary to kill whales in order to obtain information on their stocks and diet.

Humpback and fin whales remain classified as 'vulnerable’ species on the List of Threatened Species of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). These species are only just beginning to re-establish viable populations after being pushed to near extinction in the past by over-zealous whaling, including by Australia which ceased whaling in 1979.

But it is now more than 25 years since Australia banned whaling and our research has not suffered as a result. In fact up to half of the humpback whales to be targeted by Japan from 2007/08 are already known to researchers along the east and west coasts of Australia because their progress is monitored during annual migration.

Japan’s lethal whale science will directly affect our peaceful monitoring of whale breeding as the population recovers.

Japan’s whaling weakens the moratorium on commercial whaling, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and international efforts to conserve and protect whales. The IWC has repeatedly adopted resolutions urging Japan to refrain from lethal scientific whaling.

* Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell is midway through a round of shuttle diplomacy in Europe and the Pacific attempting to persuade other nations to join with Australia in preventing a resumption of commercial whaling when the IWC meets in Ulsan, South Korea, in late June.