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Carter: South Pacific Whale Research Consortium

Hon Chris Carter
Minister of Conservation

8 February 2006 Speech

Speech to 7th Annual Meeting of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium

Delivered: School of Biological Sciences, Auckland University

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me here to open your Annual Meeting today. I know this is the seventh time the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium has met, and participation has grown from a small group to the 50 or so people attending today.

To those of you who have travelled from off shore, welcome to New Zealand. I hope your stay in our country is an enjoyable and fruitful one.

You are meeting here at an interesting time because whales and the issues that surround them have achieved an extraordinary profile in New Zealand this summer.

Our TV screens have been filled with emotional stories of whales stranding on our beaches, and the massive community efforts to save them. We've seen the magical arrival of a pod of Orcas right in the middle of celebrations for a new marine reserve near Nelson.

We've had a whale that might or might not have sunk a yacht, and of course, we've had the whale in the Thames in London.

But sadly, casting a pall over all of this, has been night after night of gruesome footage from Japan's so-called scientific whaling programme in the Southern Ocean. Entwined with this coverage has been a public relations programme by various Japanese whaling organisations attempting to justify the argument that it is necessary to kill whales to study them.

New Zealanders have always felt strongly about whale conservation, but I think it is fair to say that the activities of Japan's whalers this summer have angered so many people that this feeling has been magnified.

Many Kiwis will find it more than a little ironic that your consortium has now gathered on our shores to discuss non-lethal whale research programmes and techniques. This is particularly so, when you consider the only substantive scientific information on South Pacific whales delivered to the International Whaling Commission in recent years, has been derived from your benign research, not Japan's lethal version.

Doubtless, the future of the International Whaling Commission will be a common topic of discussion for many of you while you're here, as it is for everyone involved in whale conservation.

This year's meeting in St Kitts and Nevis is likely to be very controversial, emphasising once again that the IWC is a dysfunctional organisation in need of radical reform.

Nevertheless, at the present time the IWC remains the focus of efforts to protect whales at a global level. New Zealand will attend the St Kitts meeting, and so will I. We will again be as vigorous as we can be in defending whale conservation, and seek to contain the efforts of those who wish to return to commercial whaling.

Having said that, New Zealand, like many countries, has come to the conclusion that because of the evident limitations of the Commission, the cause of whale conservation must be pursued on other fronts as well. With this in mind, we have quietly begun to turn our attention to what can be done in our own region using other international instruments besides the IWC.

We are mindful that Oceania, more than any other region, is a marine realm. The members of the Pacific Islands community are tiny areas of land in a vast ocean of over 30 million sq km. The large migratory marine species – whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks – have always had a central place in the culture of Pacific peoples to the extent that the migrations of these animals mirror the traditional oceanic voyages of the people of the region.

As we all know, the history of commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th Centuries has left a sad legacy throughout the Southern Hemisphere, but nowhere is the situation more serious than in the South Pacific.

The great whales of our region undertake lengthy annual migrations between their summer feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean and their winter breeding grounds in the tropical Pacific Islands. During the 20th Century, tens of thousands of whales from the Pacific were taken by Northern Hemisphere whaling fleets, including an illegal hunt of some 45,000 humpback whales, without any consultation with the countries and territories of the region.

Of course, we are not innocent either. New Zealand once participated in whaling as well, but has since recognised the error of our ways.

The tragic result of all this history is that the whale populations of our region are among the most severely depleted in the world.

New Zealand and Australia believe now is the time to capitalise on the strong feelings about the marine environment in the Pacific, and prevent past abuses from ever happening again.

Analysis has identified the Convention on Migratory Species, to which New Zealand became a party in 1999, as a forum that may provide this opportunity.

Three years ago, we began work on the notion of a Memorandum of Understanding governing whale conservation under the Convention on Migratory Species. The idea was that because the membership fees of the Convention were vastly cheaper than those of the IWC, if an MoU could be achieved, it would be a far more attractive framework through which small Pacific nations could participate in whale and dolphin conservation.

Thanks to the good work of many in this room, particularly the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, or SPREP, the Memorandum of Understanding on the Protection of Cetaceans and their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region, is about to reach fruition.

In a few months, the MoU opens for signature, and those who sign it will agree to implement a whole range of initiatives to protect and preserve whales and dolphins, such as threat reduction and habitat protection. The MoU comes in to effect with four signatories, and New Zealand will be at the front of queue ready to put pen to paper.

We are optimistic of gradually encouraging the 16 members of the Pacific Forum to sign up to CMS and the MoU, particularly given the growing interest across the Pacific in whale conservation. Vanuatu, for instance, has just declared a whale sanctuary in its exclusive economic zone.

To reinforce New Zealand’s commitment to SPREP’s work on this MoU and to sound non-lethal scientific research, I am very pleased to announce today two regional funding initiatives that I’m sure will be of considerable interest to you all.

First, the Department of Conservation has very recently received funding support from NZAID, New Zealand's Official Development Assistance agency, to implement a three-year programme of research into the whale and dolphin species of Tuvalu and Kiribati.

The programme will involve a desktop study to bring together existing information; a training workshop to up skill local officials and researchers; dedicated research cruises; and workshops to report back to the local community.

The objectives of the programme are to develop a permanent local capacity for ongoing research, to identify possible economic opportunities from ecotourism and to publish the first definitive account of the cetaceans of Tuvalu and Kiribati. DOC will be looking to the Consortium to provide much of the technical expertise for this ambitious programme.

Second, the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust, in association with SPREP and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, will provide the funding for the Consortium to deliver a training workshop later this year, with the objective of developing a Pacific Islands whale stranding network.

These exciting initiatives will bring together a group of stakeholders that includes governments, regional institutions, scientists and environmental groups. It will be a group of committed individuals with a common purpose and strength.

In these difficult times for the conservation of whales, it is indeed encouraging to realise that we are not yet ready to roll over in the face of a heavily-resourced campaign dedicated to the resumption of industrial-scale whaling in the Southern Ocean.

I am also aware of other regional initiatives in which the Consortium is currently engaged, including a proposal for a co-ordinated regional research programme supported by the French Government’s Fonds Pacifique. I also urge you to continue to work closely with SPREP in the review of their Whale and Dolphin Action Plan and the development of a regional strandings network.

For my part, I want to assure you that during the term of this Labour-led government, New Zealand will continue to strive for the maximum protection of whales. I commend you for your commitment in providing the scientific background to assist in that task.

Thank you again for inviting me here this morning, and I wish you all good luck in completing your very full agenda. I shall look forward to hearing the results of your discussions, and look forward to seeing some of you again in St Kitts and Nevis in June.

No reira

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa


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