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Japanese actions outrage Pacific community

3 June 2005

Japanese actions outrage Pacific community in Auckland

The Japanese government's announcement to increase its annual minke kill and include humpback and fin whales in its "scientific research whaling programme" has outraged many of Auckland's Pacific leaders.

Tapa Charitable Trust CEO Melino Maka says the Japanese targeting of humpbacks is a direct threat to Tonga's economic security. Mr Maka, who is also chair of the Tongan Advisory Council, has long been an advocate for South Pacific nations creating ecotourism ventures around whale watching, adopting similar methods that have proven so successful with Ngai Tahu and the Whale Watch Kaikoura experience.

"The terms sustainability and ecotourism are bandied around very casually these days. There's no question that they are worthy ideals. What Whale Watch Kaikoura has done is apply these concepts in a practical way that improves economic and social conditions. They have achieved a form of tourism not only based on nature but also on the people who live nearby, their needs and their culture.

"In a relatively short time Kaikoura has gone from a depressed little town with a great fish and chip shop to what it is today - one of the leading marine mammal tourism destinations in the world.

"Japan's latest announcement really demonstrates that it doesn't care about the South Pacific's long-term economic future. The term scientific whaling is used by pro-whaling countries to disguise commercial whaling and they are blatantly buying small economy nations and their membership to the IWC.

"It is about time developed countries and major NGOs stopped talking, got off the fence and did something positive for our region and made an effective stand against this Japanese arrogance. The longer we delay the harder it will be to save these magnificent mammals," says Mr Maka.

Massey University's Dr Mark Orams estimated in his 1999 study of the economic benefit of whale watching in Vava'u that a humpback whale returning to Tonga every year during its 50-year lifetime would generate $US1 million in tourist revenue.

In 1998 the worldwide economic benefit of whale watching activities was more than $US 1 billion. Whale watching now takes place in every continent and in countries as diverse as Argentina, South Africa, Japan, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and the majority of South Pacific nations.

"It's not nuclear physics," says Mr Maka. "How many times can you kill a whale? How many times can you watch one?

"Whatever my personal views on whale watching or whale hunting, the fact is here is a fledgling industry that can bring great benefit to the Pacific and it is being threatened."


Nearly 200,000 humpback whales and more than 700,000 fin whales were killed in the Southern Hemisphere during the 20th century reducing both populations to near extinction. Now, Japan has announced plans to resume hunting of both species in defiance of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The hunt will take place in Antarctic waters south of Australia, New Zealand and other South Pacific island nations starting during the Antarctic summer of 2005/06 as part of Japan's expanded programme of "scientific whaling".

Commercial sale of whale products from Japan's existing scientific whaling program generates an estimated US $52 million in profits. If Japan and other whaling nations are successful with their plans to weaken international agreements on trade in endangered species, meat from southern hemisphere humpback and fin whales could find its way to other whaling countries, including Norway and Iceland, as well as the supermarkets of Tokyo.

Despite claims to the contrary by Japan, humpback whales throughout much of the South Pacific have shown little sign of recovery to their former abundance. Scientists from the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium have been involved for more than a decade in studies of living humpback whales on their winter breeding grounds in French Polynesia (Moorea and Tahiti), the Cook Islands, Niue, the Kingdom of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Consortium scientists have collected individual identification photographs and genetic samples from more than 1,200 whales throughout this vast region.

This non-lethal research programme has provided a wealth of information, tracking the annual return of most whales to their natal wintering grounds and, for the first time, the migration of some whales between the island chains. Working with local governments, the Consortium has helped to establish sanctuaries for whales in the territorial waters of many of these island nations and to promote appreciation of living whales through education and the economic benefits of whale watching. Now, Japan's irresponsible plans to hunt these same whales during their migration to feeding grounds in waters around the Antarctic could undermine local recovery.

"The King of Tonga banned hunting of humpback whales in 1978 and the population is only now beginning to increase in numbers" say Dr. Scott Baker, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Auckland. "These whales migrate past New Zealand to feeding grounds in the Antarctic where they will be at risk of Japan's whaling fleet."

"Surveys in Cook Strait last winter confirmed the recent return of humpbacks to New Zealand after the intensive commercial and illegal hunting of the last century" says Simon Childerhouse of the New Zealand Department of Conservation. "These whales will now be hunted by Japan in Antarctic waters where the majority of member nations of the IWC support a Sanctuary."

"Humpback whales were once common around Fiji but our recent surveys found almost nothing" says Dave Patton of Southern Cross University, New South Wales, Australia. "Hunting on the Antarctic feeding grounds could prevent any return of this population to its former habitat."

"The New Caledonia population of humpback whales numbers perhaps a few hundred individuals, many of which return year after year to our southern lagoon" says

Dr. Claire Garrigue of Operation Cetacean in Noumea. "Japan's whaling will threaten our local tourism and undermine recent legislation to declare a sanctuary for whales around New Caledonia."

"Japan's scientific whaling program has been widely criticised as a cover for a growing commercial hunt" says Dr. Phil Clapham, Director of the large Whale Program for the Northwest and Alaska Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. "The quality of the scientific research is poor, providing almost no information of value for the management of whale populations despite more than 10 years of operation and ???? whales killed."


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