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Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

27 October 2005

Milne comments on strandings misinformed

Comments from Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne on whale strandings are misinformed and unhelpful, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said today.

Senator Milne was quick to lay blame for the recent whale strandings at Marion Bay, pointing the finger at seismic testing and naval activity off the coast of Tasmania.

“While it is pleasing to see the Australian Greens commenting on an issue relating to the environment for a change, Senator Milne’s comments are unhelpful,” Senator Ian Campbell said.

Some seismic testing has been occurring off the North coast of Tasmania, but some 440 km from the site of yesterday’s strandings. Expert research indicates that sounds from seismic survey techniques dissipate over only a few kilometres.

While Australian Naval vessels were conducting sonar operations in the vicinity of Tuesday's strandings they arrived after the first stranding had occurred.

“These whale strandings are tragic but the fact is they are not a recent phenomenon and occur without definitive explanation,” Senator Campbell said.

“Even Aristotle, in his writings thousands of years ago, acknowledged the frequent, unexplained strandings, noting: “It is not known why they sometimes run aground on the seashore: for it is asserted that this happens rather frequently when the fancy takes them and without any apparent reason.”

Strandings occur particularly frequently in Bass Strait and along the coasts of Tasmania and Western Australia. Marion Bay in particular has been the site of several large whale strandings over the years.

Strandings have been attributed to things such as disease, natural pod behaviour and ageing. More recent theories suggest that oceanographic processes may have a causal link by bringing the prey of the whales, and therefore the whales, closer inshore, where they become disoriented and sometimes strand.

The Australian Government is very concerned about whale strandings and places a high priority on addressing the issue. Earlier this year it funded a visit to Tasmania by a world-recognised US expert in whale acoustic trauma, Dr Darlene Ketten. Dr Ketten examined a number of whale samples collected during a previous stranding in late 2004, finding that hearing trauma was not the cause. Dr Ketten also helped to provide training for Australian scientists, local pathologists and researchers from a number of jurisdictions on whale stranding issues.

The Australian Government is also funding the establishment of a national strandings database to assist researchers and is collaborating with the New Zealand Government to share experiences and knowledge on whale strandings to better inform management practices and mitigation measures.

Media Contact:
Renae Stoikos 02 6277 7640 or 0418 568 434

Commonwealth of Australia