“A decision will be made in a matter of weeks at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission, which could see Japanese whaling ships enter Australian waters off Antarctica to hunt humpbacks.
At the same time, the annual migration of humpback and southern right whales will begin appearing off Sydney’s beaches.
Last night Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said the idea of hunting humpback whales was ‘grotesque” and any move to bring it back could cause an international outrage.
The still secret proposal by Japan will be the first time since 1966, when the harpooning of humpback whales was first banned, that a commercial take – under the guise of scientific research – could be allowed.
The State Government yesterday called for an urgent intervention by Canberra, claiming the humpback population which migrate along the NSW coastline annually will be hunted.
It is also concerned the multi million dollar whale watching industry could be threatened.
Humpback whales have only just recovered from a critically low number of 100 in 1962 to back around 4000.
However, Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock is trying to block a Federal Court action launched by the Humane Society Internationale to stop a Japanese whaling company entering the Australian Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica set up in 2000 and protected under Australian law.
It fears that any attempts to stop Japan entering Australian waters for whaling could spark a diplomatic row because Japan does not recognise Australia’s claim to this territory.
A submission by Mr Ruddock reveals that the Government will refuse to board or prevent Japanese whaling vessels operating in Australian waters.
Japan, which still takes 400 minke whales a year, has threatened to withdraw from the IWC if it does not get its way in broadening its annual harvest.
However, it may not have to. It has managed to lobby enough of the 55 member countries to undermine – for the first time in 20 years – the majority that anti-whaling nations have had on the commission.
This means it may get approval for its plans without needing to withdraw.
Japan is attempting to use a loophole in the 1986 moratorium on all whaling – which already allows it to take of 400 minke whales for research – to resume the taking of humpbacks and sperm whales.”