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Conservation Minister's speech on Whale Sanctuary

4 June 2000 Speech Notes For immediate release

Conservation Minister's speech on South Pacific whale sanctuary proposal to the International Whaling Commission annual meeting in Adelaide


With these words of greeting in my native language, I thank you for welcoming me here today.

As the New Zealand Minister of Conservation, I am here to support my government's joint proposal with Australia for the establishment of a South Pacific whale sanctuary.

In doing so, my country also complies with the 1998 direction of the South Pacific Forum to progress the South Pacific whale sanctuary proposition. The South Pacific Forum comprises 22 countries. I am conscious that with the exception of one country, all other Pacific Island nations are not yet members of the IWC, and therefore at this important forum have no speaking or voting rights.

I stand here today, as the Minister of Conservation of the Government of New Zealand, and the Associate Minister of Maori Affairs, and also as an indigenous person from the South Pacific, a Maori from Aotearoa New Zealand, a proud member of the greater Polynesian race.

Maori people had benign contact with whales for more than a thousand years of coastal and ocean-going travel before European colonisation. All whales but especially sperm whales were regarded as chiefly figures of the ocean realm. High ranking Maori were often praised and revered by being likened to whales and indeed some Iwi tribes acknowledge that their descent comes down from ancestor whales.

Whales also served as guardians during my peoples' long voyages of discovery throughout Polynesia. My own tribe, from the great canoe Takitimu, hold that a guardian whale accompanied my ancestors to our new homeland in Aotearoa. In fact, at one stage, while the canoe was traversing the mid-Pacific it encountered a whirlpool that threatened to destroy the vessel. The chiefly priest stood on the bow, raised his sacred adze and cried:

There is now the tail of our tipuna to guide us through this maelstrom

and then he remarked

Look at his straight path…there yonder is our salvation.

This guardian remained with us and became the revered ancestor of my people.

The relationship between Maori and whales began to change with the arrival two hundred years ago of foreign commercial whalers.

The technology they brought with them almost completely wiped out the Tohora or Southern Right Whale in but a few years. The advent of steam power and the explosive harpoon impacted heavily on other species.

I have observed with interest the comments made by a number of delegations of historical traditional relationships many indigenous peoples have with whales. I would point out however, that many traditional relationships for my people are not simply based on the linear argument of harvesting of whales.

Mr Chairman there has been some suggestion that my country's South Pacific whale sanctuary proposal represents some form of economic imperialism and moral judgement. That is not so. Indeed it is my wish that the whale does not become the victim of the economic imperative solely for the purposes of commercial gain.

My own country New Zealand must take responsibility for the fact that they were heavily involved in commercial whaling last century. During the first half of the 20th Century, whaling operations took thousands of humpback whales on their annual migrations through our Moana-nui-a-kiwa, our sea.

In 1964 the last station closed after an almost total collapse in the number of whales killed during the previous two years. Forty years on it is still very rare for a humpback whale to be sighted near our coastline.

The New Zealand government now supports my peoples' belief that it is timely the Tohora which helped my people survive when we voyaged to Aotearoa New Zealand, in our times of trouble, should now be given the same support by virtue of a sanctuary in order that we might be able to help them (Tohora) survive as well.

New Zealand and Australia are simply asking, and make no apology for it, the nations represented here to support us in applying our best endeavours to assist with the survival of these ancestors and guardians of my people.

The vast majority of indigenous peoples and governments of the South Pacific are in favour of protecting the breeding grounds of whales by establishing the South Pacific whale sanctuary; there is no questionable ulterior motive beyond this.

The contemporary experience of the indigenous people of the South Pacific has enjoined some of our nations in now whale watching as opposed to whale hunting. That has resulted in an award winning tribal success that has been internationally recognised.

While I do not doubt that those who argue for the proposition that at some time in the future the resumption of sustainable whaling will begin, I can only think of the present circumstances where we may observe the great imperative of where we find ourselves now in what the scientists advise us is the last chance decade.

Mr Chairman, I would like to conclude with Bruce Jesson the New Zealand author and economist's view from his book "Only Their Purpose is Mad" . Who wrote "science and reason are embodied in the industrial and commercial processes, yet industry and commerce often appear destructive and irrational. They are also dehumanising."

As Herman Melville in his book "Moby Dick" wrote:

"to accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all the tools used in the shadow of the moon, men are the most apt to get out of order".

"With Ahab, enormous intellectual purpose is focussed on the pursuit of the whale because this whale embodies the catastrophe of his life – the loss of his leg – and the catastrophe of the world he lives in. Intellectual rigour is put at the service of madness."

Very possibly, Mr Chairman, Ahab's leg could be made analogous to a loss of land or indeed rights as things were. However the work of this commission at least must be tested by intellectual rigour, grace and an appreciation of the otherness.

In conclusion to quote my favourite German author Bertold Brecht "so that is all, but it is not enough, but it is like the man who carried a brick with him to show the world what his house was like."

No reira rangatira ma
tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

Hon Sandra Lee, Minister of Conservation,

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