Posted by: The ocean update | August 16, 2014

Swimming with whales – how much exploitation is enough ? (Australia)

whales-harrasmentAugust 16th, 2014. The Queensland Government looks certain to allow commercial whale watching operators to conduct and promote swimming with whales activities for their passengers. Called “swim with the whales” by some and a “whale immersion experience” by others, the move is cause for apprehension for the AWCS and other NGOs and researchers.

Despite a number of letters highlighting concerns for the welfare of whales and the safety of the people in the water with them, neither Environment Minister Andrew Powell nor Tourism Minister Jann Stuckey has acted on requests from the AWCS to meet with them or with officers from their departments. This is despite a series of meetings they have had with the operators who have been lobbying for whale-swim programs for the past two years.

Incredibly, the Government has not consulted with the team of experienced and qualified researchers that has been conducting humpback whale research in Hervey Bay, under a Government permit, for more than two decades. The long-term research program run by Trish and Wally Franklin, co-founders of the Oceania Project, has focussed on understanding the social and ecological significance of Hervey Bay to the humpbacks that migrate along Australia’s east coast. Dr Trish Franklin achieved her degree this year, based on her investigations of the complex social organisation and behaviour of these whales. Wally Franklin is in the process of finalising his doctoral thesis as well.

AWCS recognises that there is no obligation on commercial whale watch operators to be concerned about the welfare of whales. They are running a business and their primary aim is to be financially successful. Their only obligation is to operate within the legislation (to act within the law) and they have a democratic right to ask the government for anything that will benefit them commercially.

The Government on the other hand – specifically the Environment Minister – isresponsible for the welfare of whales in State waters. This includes managing the regulations that are in place, and strengthening them when necessary, to ensure that whales are not injured, harassed, stressed or have their natural behaviour disrupted.

This population of humpback whales, although currently increasing in number, is still less than half what it was before being decimated by commercial whaling in the mid-20th century.

They are already impacted by increasing attention from commercial whale watch vessels and private vessels; mounting anthropogenic noise; marine debris; pollution; growing risk of ship-strike; and entanglement in fishing and shark-meshing gear.

There is also the very real possibility that changes brought about by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide might begin to affect the abundance and distribution of krill, their primary food resource in the Southern Ocean.

The cumulative effects of these and other pressures are of great concern to the AWCS.

The addition of a further source of stress and distraction, in our view, cannot be justified.



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