Whales form a vital part of the marine ecosystem, sequestering thousands of tonnes of carbon each year and delivering nutrients to the surface of the ocean as part of the nitrogen cycle. Not only this, but they are also majestic to look at, which is probably why many head to a site like kaikanani.com for a chance to book a whale-watching boat tour. The site of a breaching whale is truly a site to see, and not something many get to witness. In recent days I’ve been talking to several anti-whaling campaigners and an international professor of law but none of them saw this one coming.
The headline on the joint statement from Australian ministers Stephen Smith (Foreign Affairs), Peter Garrett (Environmental Protection and Definitely-Nothing-To-Do-With-Insulation) and Attorney-General Robert McClelland sort of gives the story away really.
The statement comes as delegates arrive in Agadir for the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission where all eyes will be on agenda item 3 – a so-called compromise deal to bring the three whaling nations of Iceland, Norway and Japan into line.
At the end of April, in a speech to the Australian National University, Peter Garrett outlined Australia’s dislike of the new proposal and did warn we would pursue legal action if the Government’s demands were not met. Perhaps that’s why this announcement will have caught most people on the hop.
There has been much written about that compromise deal already. The BBC has a good summary here, but in short it would allow whaling by non-indigenous hunters from those nations still killing the animals – Japan, Iceland and Norway. It would also set up an international team of observers and set quotas (campaigners say more than half of the species included in the draft proposal have not had a scientific assessment conducted on the health of their populations).
There’s been a moratorium on commercial whaling since the 1985/86 hunting season, but it didn’t stop nations from killing the animals.
Norway and Iceland get around the moratorium by just objecting to it (if only parking fines worked that way). Japan also tried this tactic, but these days uses a condition from the original 1946 convention that allows whaling in the name of science, known as Article VIII.
We can see today’s announcement as a statement of intent by Australia – a bit of diplomatic positioning – that if it doesn’t get it’s own way in Agadir, it’ll be heading for The Hague.
By the way, I took the pic of the whale myself during a whale watching trip off the coast just north of Brisbane. They look better alive than dead.
UPDATE: Here’s why I was talking to the campaigners an law experts. Feature on ABC Environment.