The Minister for the Environment and Heritage Senator Ian Campbell will visit the Pacific nations of Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu in a bid to strengthen support for Australia’s stand on whale conservation in the lead up to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting next month.

Lead-up meetings to the 58th session of IWC began in the Caribbean late last week. Meanwhile, Senator Campbell is continuing to promote Australia’s whale conservation position ahead of the formal IWC meeting which will take place from 16 to 20th June.

Senator Campbell will leave tomorrow for a three day trip to Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands.

Kiribati has been a member of the IWC since 2004. Vanuatu has recently declared a whale sanctuary in its national waters and it is understood the Marshall Islands have recently shown an interest in whale conservation issues.

Senator Campbell said it was important to build on our relationships with the region, particularly in the face of evidence suggesting that humpback whale numbers show little or no signs of recovery in the Pacific.

“This is an issue that cannot be ignored. It is vital that we talk through with our Pacific neighbours the very real implications of a return to commercial whaling, particularly as the IWC pro-whaling bloc continues to grow stronger.

“From the start of industrial whaling in 1904 to 1986, it is estimated that nearly 2 million whales were killed in the Southern hemisphere. Thanks to the moratorium on commercial whaling in place since 1986, some whale populations are beginning to recover.

“Sadly, however, that does not appear to be the case in the Pacific where humpback whale numbers remain low. To take even a few whales from these uncertain populations could jeopardise their recovery in the region.

“This year’s IWC vote is crunch time for the future survival of whales and every vote will be critical.

“I have been working day and night through a range of international channels to pursue a permanent global moratorium on commercial whaling and an end to scientific whaling.

Australia’s International Whaling Commissioner has also been travelling around the world meeting with like-minded conservation members of the IWC to ensure a strong united voice to save our whales.

Senator Campbell will lead Australia’s delegation to the main IWC meeting.

“Now, more than ever, we need to garner as much support as we can or we face the real prospect of a return to the days when killing whales was commonplace.”

Senator Campbell said he intended to pursue every available opportunity to try to persuade potential IWC voters to stand united with Australia against this unnecessary and abhorrent practice.

The International Whaling Commission meets at St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean from 16–20 June 2006. The main Scientific Committee meetings have already begun.