International protection of whales

Australia is a world leader in the international protection and conservation of whales.

Whales are well-loved by Australians and whale watching has replaced hunting as a way of deriving economic, social and cultural benefits from whales, while also allowing their populations to recover.

During the 19th and 20th centuries commercial whaling brought many whale species to the brink of extinction. Australia ended whaling in 1979 and since that time has pursued worldwide protection for all cetaceans.

International Whaling Commission

In 1986, Australia supported the introduction of a global moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission. However, some countries still undertake commercial whaling, including so-called 'scientific' whaling.

The Commission is the primary forum in which Australia vigorously defends and promotes its whale conservation objectives.

Australia is an active participant in Commission meetings, sending delegations to all annual meetings, supporting meetings and special meetings.

International Whale and Marine Mammal Conservation Initiatives Program

In December 2008, the Australian Government announced a comprehensive package of more than $32 million over six-years for non lethal whale research and other marine mammal conservation initiatives.

This is the largest single investment committed by any country for non-lethal whale research and establishes Australia as the leader in marine mammal science and conservation in the Southern Hemisphere. This commitment is part of Australia's overarching strategy to end so called 'scientific' whaling and improve the conservation of whales around the world. The key activities under this program are:

  • Southern Ocean Research Partnership;
  • enhancement of Australia's marine mammal research and conservation; and
  • policy support for Australia's International Whaling Commission reform agenda.

Southern Ocean Research Partnership

The Australian-initiated, and International Whaling Commission-endorsed, Southern Ocean Research Partnership (the partnership), is delivering valuable, non-lethal whale research on an international scale - demonstrating that whales do not need to be killed in the name of science.

Antarctic Whale Research Expedition

On 29 January 2010, the Australian and New Zealand governments officially launched the first Antarctic whale research expedition as part of the partnership. The joint Antarctic Whale Research Expedition completed six weeks of research - from 2 February to 15 March 2010 - aboard the New Zealand vessel R/V Tangaroa in the Antarctic waters to the south of Australia and New Zealand.

Southern Ocean Research Partnership Steering Group

At the International Whaling Commission's 2010 annual meeting, a Southern Ocean Research Partnership Steering Group was established. It includes representatives from Oceania, Europe, Africa and North and South America. The role of the Partnership Steering Group is to consider partnership projects. Following the steering group's formation, six draft projects were proposed. These projects will form the focus for the partnership over the period 2011-2015.

In March 2011, France hosted a meeting of the Partnership Steering Group to review the progress of the partnership and to continue developing the six approved partnership projects. The budget for the proposed projects was adopted by the Commission at its July 2011 annual meeting.

Antarctic Blue Whale Project

At a side event to the Commission's 2011 annual meeting, the Environment Minister announced the launch of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership's Antarctic Blue Whale Project.

During the era of industrial whaling, over 300 000 blue whales were killed, leaving only a small and vulnerable population dispersed around the Antarctic continent. Today, despite over half a century of protection, blue whales remain a rare sight in the Southern Ocean and at just a fraction of their original numbers. With this in mind, the Antarctic Blue Whale Project was established as a multi national, multi-platform, multi-year project aimed at increasing our understanding of the blue whales' important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. Through a series of coordinated circumpolar research expeditions, the blue whale project will deliver research to aid the recovery of these whales.

Australian Marine Mammal Research and Conservation

The Australian Government Marine Mammal Conservation Initiative aims to increase collaboration and cooperation, both nationally and in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, on the research and conservation of cetaceans and other marine mammals. This work is supported by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre through numerous activities, including providing grants to Australian researchers to improve the understanding and conservation of marine mammals in Australia and throughout the region.

Australian Marine Mammal Centre

The Australian Marine Mammal Centre was established as the first national research centre focused on understanding, protecting and conserving the whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and dugongs in our region.

The centre provides high-quality science to support the policies of the Australian Government and thereby increase the protection and conservation of whales. Scientists from the centre represent Australia in the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.

Funding for marine mammal research in the Australasian region

Australian Marine Mammal Grants Scheme

The Australian Marine Mammal Centre provides grants to Australian researchers to improve the understanding and conservation of marine mammals in Australia. This research delivers high-quality outcomes to address the most pressing marine mammal conservation needs. The work aims to identify and effectively manage the interactions that impact on marine mammals. To achieve this the Australian Government requires an understanding of the:

  • status of marine mammal species (population structure, distribution, abundance and trend)
  • nature and extent of the interaction
  • options for, and likely effectiveness of, mitigation strategies.

To accommodate Australia's national and international obligations, and to reflect the large scale movements of many marine mammal species, the priorities of the grants focus on the whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and dugongs of the Australasian region. In 2010, the Australian Government allocated more than $1.1 million to support 12 projects throughout Australia.

Bill Dawbin Post-Doctoral Fellowship Fund

The Bill Dawbin Post-Doctoral Fellowship Fund was established to provide a salary and project funding to an emerging marine mammal scientist to undertake non-lethal research focused on understanding and conserving cetaceans in the Australasian region, including the waters of the Indian, Southern and South Pacific oceans.

In 2011, Dr Isabel Beasley from James Cook University was awarded a Fellowship to work with Indigenous Sea Rangers and Traditional Owners to investigate the occurrence and distribution of Australian snubfin and humpback dolphins in the Gulf of Carpentaria and southern Papua New Guinea, regions that contain potentially important habitats for both species.

Indo-Pacific Cetacean Research and Conservation Fund

The Australian Marine Mammal Centre also administers the Indo-Pacific Cetacean Research and Conservation Fund. The fund aims to attract high-quality, innovative and relevant research projects that address research and conservation challenges that are of interest to the Australian Government, developing countries in the Indo-Pacific Region and, more generally, the cetacean research and conservation community. Since establishing the project, the Government has allocated around $400 000 to support seven projects, each running for up to three years, in the waters off Bangladesh, Fiji, Papua New Guinea (two projects), Pakistan, Palau and Thailand.