International Whaling Commission

The International Whaling Commission was established under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, signed on 2 December 1946. At this time, there were 14 member states. Today, the Commission comprises 89 countries with only three of those engaging in commercial whaling - Japan, Norway and Iceland.

The Commission has taken some encouraging steps to strengthen its focus on conserving and studying whales - including the establishment of the global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 and in 2003, the establishment of a dedicated conservation committee.

Australia has been a driving force behind strong efforts in the Commission to improve international whale conservation. The Australian Government remains resolutely opposed to all forms of commercial whaling, including so-called 'scientific' whaling and strongly supports the global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Australia is working hard to transform the Commission into a 21st Century multilateral conservation organisation capable of addressing the full suite of whale conservation needs based on world's best practice and the principles of modern ecosystem-based management.

Australia's Commissioner is Ms Donna Petrachenko.

The International Court of Justice delivered its judgment in the case concerning Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v Japan: New Zealand intervening) on Monday, 31 March 2014. The judgment was delivered at a public sitting at the Peace Palace, The Hague, the seat of the Court during which the President, Judge Tomka, read the court’s judgment.

Additional information on the judgment is available from the Attorney-General’s Department

64th International Whaling Commission meeting

The 64th International Whaling Commission Meeting was held in Panama on 2-6 July 2012. The following report provides a summary of the key outcomes of the meeting and focuses on matters of particular interest to Australia - highlighting Australia's contributions and positions on those issues.

Whale sanctuaries

Sanctuaries are designed to provide whales with a refuge from whaling, allowing species to recover from serious over-exploitation that occurred throughout the 20th Century.

The aim of whale sanctuaries is to benefit long-term whale conservation by:

  • facilitating the recovery of seriously depleted great whale populations by protecting important areas such as feeding or breeding grounds and migratory routes
  • providing economic benefits to range states by providing opportunities to develop non-lethal economic uses of cetacean species (such as ecotourism and whale watching)
  • fostering interest and cooperation in non-lethal research into the behaviour and biology of cetacean species
  • providing the Commission with a broad management tool to protect multiple species
  • setting aside a place where whales can play their important role in the ecosystem
  • increasing public awareness and appreciation of the value and vulnerability of marine ecosystems.

Australian Whale Sanctuary

Within Australia, all Commonwealth waters are part of the Australian Whale Sanctuary. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, it is illegal to kill, injure or interfere with cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in Australian waters.

International Whale Sanctuaries

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling includes provision for fixing sanctuary areas under Article V(1)(c). There are two existing whale sanctuaries - the Indian Ocean Sanctuary and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

At the Commission's 2011 annual meeting, Brazil and Argentina proposed the establishment of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. Establishment of a whale sanctuary in the southern Atlantic Ocean basin has been on the Commission's agenda for many years. However, despite receiving majority support on each occasion it has been put forward, it has failed to receive the level of support required for adoption by the Commission. The Commission has resolved to continue to discuss the establishment of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary as the first substantive agenda item at the 2012 annual meeting.

The Indian Ocean Sanctuary

In 1979, in its first year as a member of the Commission, the Seychelles introduced the Indian Ocean Sanctuary as an initiative. It prohibits commercial whaling throughout the Indian Ocean extending North from 55 degrees South in addition to adjacent waters including the Red and Arabian Seas and the Gulf of Oman. It was adopted initially in order to protect breeding and calving grounds in the Indian Ocean. It was reviewed and retained in 1992 and in 2002. It will continue to be reviewed every ten years.

The Southern Ocean Sanctuary

In 1992, France initially proposed the Southern Ocean Sanctuary to protect the summer feeding grounds of the Southern Hemisphere great whales. The initiative was adopted in 1994 and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary became another area in which whales were protected from commercial whaling. It prohibits commercial whaling in former Antarctic whaling grounds. The sanctuary was reviewed and retained in 2004 and will continue to be reviewed every ten years.

The Southern Ocean Sanctuary facilitates international, long-term, non-lethal cetacean research programs that provide useful information on the factors affecting whale populations. However, it is an incomplete protection measure as industrial-scale whaling, purportedly for purposes of 'scientific research', continues to target whale species within the sanctuary.

Voluntary contributions

In 2009, Australia made a voluntary contribution to the Commission of $1.5 million to support participation in:

  • the Southern Ocean Research Partnership - $500 000 to support the participation of developing countries and research organisations in the activities of the partnership
  • small cetacean conservation research - $500 000 to support ongoing research into small cetacean species
  • conservation management plans - $500 000 to support the collaborative efforts of Commission members to identify and prioritise those species for which active management of human activities will benefit cetacean conservation outcomes, and support the development and implementation of conservation management plans to achieve those outcomes.

Other conventions

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

The convention contributes to conservation by regulating international trade in endangered species. Australia is one of more than 150 countries that are party to the convention. Appendix I of the convention lists species which are threatened with extinction. 'Ten of the 12 great whale species listed in appendix 1 occur in the Southern Hemisphere'.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS)

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals is an international treaty aimed at conserving terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species and their habitats throughout their range. Australia became a party to the convention in 1991 and is also a signatory to a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding developed under the convention, including the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and their habitats in the Pacific Islands Region.

Six of the nine great whale species listed on Appendix I of the convention are found in the Southern Hemisphere. Appendix I lists migratory species that are in danger of extinction throughout all, or a significant proportion of, their range.

Five great whale species listed on Appendix II of the convention are also found in the Southern Hemisphere. Appendix II lists migratory species that have an unfavourable conservation status or would benefit significantly from international co-operation.

For Appendix II species, range states must endeavour to conclude international agreements aimed at benefiting the species, giving priority to those with an unfavourable conservation status.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 requires that any species that occurs in Australia and is included on either of the convention's appendices must be listed as a migratory species for the purposes of the Act. There are 18 whale or dolphin species that occur in Australian waters listed on the appendices. Therefore, they are listed as migratory species.