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South Pacific whale sanctuary proposal - Speech

Hon Sandra Lee

Keynote speech to SPREP meeting to progress South Pacific whale sanctuary proposal

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga maunga, nga awa, nga moana iti me nga moana rahi,
koutou o nga hau e wha, tenei te mihi atu ki a koutou katoa.
Na matou i tangi a matou mate, na koutou i tangi a koutou mate, me ki na tatou katoa.
Ratou te hunga kua wheturangitia kia ratou, tatou nga kanohi ora kia tatou, no reira tena tatou katoa.

Ko Aoraki te maunga,
Takitimu te waka,
Arahura te awa poutini te taniwha,
Poutini kai tahu te iwi,
Rangatira ma nga mihi nui kia koutou

As is the customary way of the Pacific peoples when making formal introductions, I have conveyed to you the name of my mountain Aoraki, the name of my river Arahura, the name of my canoe Takitimu, the name of my chiefly ancestor Tuhuru, and the name of my tribe Poutini Ngai Tahu who hail from the farthest reaches of the South Island of New Zealand.

I bring greetings from my Prime Minister Helen Clark and the Government of New Zealand to all the important people gathered here today. Talofa lava.

My government is pleased that we are taking part in this gathering, hosted by the Samoan Government, that is convened to progress the proposal for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary. We are also here to look at ways of integrating that initiative with your countries’ individual conservation programs and SPREP’s regional marine mammal conservation program.

I had the pleasure of calling on the Minister of Lands and Environment, the Honourable Mr Tagaloa, this morning. We discussed our portfolio attempts in our respective countries to develop better coastal and marine conservation measures. I have had similar discussions with ministers from Tonga, Niue and Vanuatu recently. Positive initiatives are being developed in these countries for coastal conservation, and back home I am reviewing our Marine Reserves Act with the same intent in mind.

These domestic initiatives can be enhanced by the creation of a regional sanctuary that unites us all as we join in the protection of these special creatures.

We are all aware that whale numbers in our region have declined catastrophically ¡V in some cases almost to extinction as a result of the high level commercial whaling that started in the late 18th century and continued well into the 20th century.

The scientific data confirms that the populations of great whales in the region are still but a small fraction of the levels that existed before exploitation began.

Sadly, and despite 15 years of protection under the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling some estimates still place the biomass of whales in the southern hemisphere at less than 8% of the biomass in the 1900s. That is why my government, along with many others, believes a South Pacific whale sanctuary will provide a further opportunity to protect the great whales in their breeding grounds complementing the existing Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary which protects the whales in their feeding grounds.

Our relationship as Pacific peoples with whales, however, predates the catastrophe commercial whaling has wrought on their numbers. Long before people on the other side of our now small world knew that the Pacific and its people even existed, these unique creatures were taking their migratory journeys in family groupings through the vast waters of the Pacific and south into the cold waters of the southern Ocean. Our relationship with them, in those times of old, was intimate as we too migrated from island to island populating nearly all the islands of the region that we represent here today. We observed their journeys and in doing so made our own travels safer.

My own people hold to a tradition that we were guided away from a storm and safely directed onto Aotearoa/New Zealand by a tohora (whale). As a result, my tribe ended up as the farthest flung Polynesian people of the Pacific, the next stop being Australia.

As a Minister of Conservation, I believe it is good to remember these timeless relationships as debate swirls around commercial activity and scientific data. As these magnificent creatures, who have plied the Pacific for millions of years, sustained our people in the days of old, so too, do we have an obligation to sustain them at this time when their numbers have become so few.

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis1, it is written that "¡KGod created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good."

What mankind has done with God's creation¡Xthe whale¡Xduring the past 200 years has not been good.

It is important also that the creation of the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary is not blurred into an argument that suggests a lack of recognition of indigenous peoples. New Zealand has, in fact, consistently supported the customary harvesting rights of indigenous peoples, such as the Inuit of North America, provided that:

- the request meets the IWC criteria;

- the whale stock involved is not seriously threatened or endangered;

- and any takes from the population do not compromise its conservation values.

The new opportunities that are emerging rapidly from whale conservation require recognition too.

Some 87-countries now operate whale watching enterprises, and their global earnings top $2-billion a year.

Options exist for many of the indigenous peoples of our region to develop their own whale watching enterprises, and one model can be seen in the business owned and operated by Maori off the New Zealand coastal township of Kaikoura.

What is now known as Whalewatch Kaikoura began in 1988; it is now one of over 40 commercial marine mammal watching businesses operating in New Zealand.

From a small business enterprise, it has grown in stature to win a British Airways global ecotourism award in 1996.

It is known as one of the best operators in the international business of whalewatching, and is providing meaningful work and real employment for our people.

Whalewatch Kaikoura's Operations Manager Maurice Manawatu is attending this gathering as an observer, and is willing to share experiences and lessons learned in the development and management of this industry.

Current debate about sustainable whaling by indigenous peoples usually refers to the hunting and consumption of whales.

The International Whaling Commission considers catch quotas for whaling activities by indigenous peoples who have traditionally relied on whales as an essential part of their diet.

The proposed South Pacific Whale Sanctuary would for many of our cousin nations provide valuable economic opportunities from whale watching enterprises.

We know from the success of Whalewatch Kaikoura and other similar enterprises that it is possible to utilise the presence of whales in our waters in a benign way.

Of course in taking this stance, we respectfully make a conscious decision to agree to disagree with one of our Forum Secretariat Development Partners, Japan, which has a fine record of development assistance to Pacific Island Forum countries.

As Helen Clark, the New Zealand Prime Minister, recently stated we should always remember that our shared interests and common aspirations with Japan far outweigh our differences.

Although we can not accept the new rationale for culling whale populations that is now being advanced by some.

Suggestions that increased populations of whales are somehow depriving humanity of marine food stocks are merely making whales a convenient scapegoat for the legacy of decades of over-fishing and the gross over-capacity of industrial fishing effort.

In fact, the impact of whales on commercial fish stocks can be summarised as follows:

- Most populations of great whales remain at historically low levels of abundance;

- Baleen ('toothless') whales in the Southern Hemisphere do not compete with any commercial fisheries;

- The total consumption of commercial fish species by baleen whales is unknown, but is at the least an order of magnitude less than the consumption by other commercial fish species;

- Sperm whales mainly feed on non-commercial deep water species;

The scientific literature certainly does not support outrageous claims that whales are consuming up to six times the world's fish catch.

In past times, there were far more great whales than today and considerably more fish. Both have been over-exploited.

Whaling nations can not justify a return to commercial whaling as part of some grand marine ecosystem plan based on assertions that won’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

They should also not seek to blame the great whales for causing any decline in fish species that in reality has been brought about by human activity such as a huge over-capacity in world fishing fleets, the degradation of coastal waters in populated areas by pollution, and global climate change.

The support that Pacific Island Forum nations have already given to New Zealand and Australia's preliminary work on the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary proposal is greatly appreciated.

It took three attempts to get the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary adopted by the IWC before it finally came into force in December 1994.

I am confident that with your support we will have similar success with the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary.

We are by virtue of our traditional relationship the kaitiaki, or guardians, of the South Pacific and of all the creatures that inhabit this ocean. Most especially, we all should see ourselves in this new millenium as the guardians of the whales. We have an opportunity to leave a precious gift to our mokopuna, for future generations, just as our ancestors left us many gifts of nature, culture and tradition that we still depend on. Thank you for coming and thank you for listening to me here today.

ENDS


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