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Speech To IWC On South Pacific Whale Sanctuary

Conservation Minister's Speech To IWC On South Pacific Whale Sanctuary Proposal

Speech on the Proposed South Pacific Whale Sanctuary delivered to 53rd Meeting of the International Whaling Commission, 24 July 2001, London

Hon Sandra Lee, Minister of Conservation, New Zealand

Mr Chairman,

Tena koe, Rangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa, (greetings to you all).

My government along with Australia proposes the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary and in doing so wishes to thank those delegations who co-sponsored and supported the proposal at the 52nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Adelaide last year.

Since then the regional support for the Sanctuary has continued to be advanced in April of this year Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tokelau together with Ministerial representatives from the Cook Islands, Tuvalu and Tonga and representatives of American Samoa, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna met in Apia, Samoa.

They reaffirmed unanimously their commitment to progress a proposal for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary. In doing so, they agreed that whales are an important part of the natural and cultural heritage of Pacific Island peoples, welcomed the growth of whale watching tourism in the region and requested the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) members of the IWC to advise the Commission of the outcome of that meeting.

Mr Chairman, I am cognisant that the Commission must have regard in its decision making to the science it has to hand at this time.

This year evidence was presented to the IWC Scientific Committee that the actual numbers of whales killed in the Southern hemisphere last century, especially fin whales, was much higher than had been believed and in excess of 2 million whales in total.

It has also been agreed that the population of Minke whales in the Southern hemisphere – the only species the Committee had previously thought to exist in abundance – is in fact in far lower numbers than had been estimated 10 years ago.

This year’s scientific committee debate confirms New Zealand’s worst fears that the Southern Ocean minke population is far less abundant than previously thought.

While the scientists may not be certain about how many minke whales are to be found in the Southern Hemisphere, there does appear to be a scientific consensus that for most of the other species of great whales the South Pacific populations remain extremely low.

Mr Chairman, New Zealand acknowledges the considerable amount of effort that has gone into the development of the Revised Management Procedure and Scheme. But I must at the same time stress that this should not be considered the only valid approach to the management of whale populations.

Few Pacific Island countries are members of this commission and the scientific subtleties of the IWC’s RMP and RMS are no the paramount consideration in terms of their aspirations.

Our relationships as Pacific peoples with whales 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 highly intelligent marine mammals were taking their migratory journeys in family groupings through the vast waters of the Pacific. Our relationship with them in those times was intimate as we too migrated from island to island. We observed their journeys and in doing so made our own migrations safer.

Mr Chairman, I believe it is wise to remember these cultural relationships as debate swirls around commercial activity and scientific data. As these magnificent creatures sustained by own Polynesian people in days of old, so too do we have an obligation to sustain them at this time when their numbers have become so few.

The IWC has long recognised the cultural rights of indigenous people whose cultures involves a take or harvest of whales on a customary basis. New Zealand has and will continue to support this approach.
I hope likewise that the cultural relationship of Pacific peoples with whales which does not involve hunting will be supported on the same basis rather than being perceived as a lesser cultural relationship by virtue of the fact that it has been benign.

The new opportunities that are rapidly emerging from whale watching enterprises in our region require recognition too. My tribal kinsman from WhaleWatch Kaikoura and representatives from the Kingdom of Tonga have come across the world to share with you their experiences in the development and management of this industry. The proposed sanctuary would enhance whale watching economic opportunities in our region. Simply put, more whales means more whale watchers.

Finally, Mr Chairman, can I say that New Zealand rejects the contention that populations of whales are somehow depriving humanity of marine food stocks such that one species has recently been described as the “cockroaches of the oceans”.

If a plague has been wrought on the oceans it is man who is responsible. Pollution, contamination, non-sustainable fishing practices, the extinctions of some species, massive reductions in marine biodiversity and degradation of the coastal edge and ocean habitats must all be attributed to human activity.

When there were far more great whales in the oceans of the world, there were also considerably more fish – both have been excessively exploited by man.

Until mankind recognises that we are but a part of the natural order of things, that must be kept in balance, rather than the exclusive controller of it, we will continue to face serious problems.

The potential catastrophe that is global warming and the now recognised need to urgently retain and restore forests euphemistically described as “sinks” is but one recent example of the problems that emerge when we fail to do so.

New Zealand urges delegates here today to vote ‘yes’ to the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary proposal to demonstrate to our region and to the world that the IWC understand these things and is intent on safeguarding the great whales in their breeding grounds of the South Pacific.

Mr Chairman may I conclude in the words of my elder:
Ki te patua te mea nui rawa
Ko te nui rawa kua ngaro

If you kill the greatest, you do not be come the greatest,
You only lose the greatest.


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