Science and research of whales and dolphins
Australia is a world leader in the protection and conservation of whales, both domestically and internationally. The Australian Government is committed to funding research projects to help gain a better understanding of these marine mammals. Australia is leading the world in non lethal research techniques, demonstrating that internationally recognised science can be undertaken without killing whales.
The Australian Government is currently funding a number of research projects to find out more about whale populations and trends, migratory pathways and important habitat areas (calving, resting and feeding) for a number of species. Much of this work involves close collaboration with other Australian Government departments, state and territory governments, universities, museums, researchers and conservation groups.
Update on media reports of the importation of whale products into Australia
On 28 December 2011, an article appeared in the Daily Telegraph suggesting "the importation of whale products into Australia was covertly authorised for scientific research".
The Department has investigated these claims at the request of the Minister and these are the findings.
Australia is a signatory to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - known as CITES - which places strict requirements on international trade in whale products.
Australia puts all whale and whale products in the highest category of protection, which means that all commercial trade is prohibited. This still allows the importation of whale specimens for non-commercial purposes, such as research.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), whale product imports can be authorised either through: issuing a CITES import permit (for specimens that pre-date the convention or are non commercial only); and registered scientific organisations can exchange certain specimens of CITES-listed species without a permit if it is part of an exchange of registered non-commercial scientific specimens.
Since 2003, the Department has issued 19 CITES permits for research purposes (current as of February 2012). The focus of all research carried out on whale products is to better understand or increase knowledge of the taxa, and/or the conservation of biodiversity.
- Three permits involved blue whale specimens originating from several countries, including Japan. These were part of a multi-country research project investigating the genetics of blue whales. All samples were biopsies from live animals, which were all alive and well after the samples were taken. Commercial take of blue whales ceased in 1967.
- One permit was for a multi-species research project aiming to develop genetic profiles to assist in the monitoring of whale meat markets. Samples came from a number of countries, including Norway. The Norwegian samples were from dead stranded animals, non-lethal biopsies of live animals and from whales taken from whaling activities in the 1960s and early 1970s. This permit was granted in 2006 and was the only sample which originated from any whaling activities.
Decisions to issue permits allowing the importation of whale products must be based on the requirements of national environment law.
For whale products, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry also issues permits under the Quarantine Act 1908 for biological specimens for biosecurity reasons.
The Australian Government is committed to protecting whales in full compliance with all our international obligations.
Australia does not condone or authorise any killing of whales for research or any other purpose.
The Australian Marine Mammal Centre was established as the first national research centre focused on understanding, protecting and conserving the whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs in our region.
The Centre coordinates Australia's marine mammal research expertise to provide scientific research and advice to underpin Australia's marine mammal conservation and policy initiatives.
- Australian Marine Mammal Centre - www.marinemammals.gov.au