Japan's claim to be whaling for scientific reasons is a sham, according to Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission.
We need to work to save the whales. Blue whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, fin whales, sei whales, Bryde's whales, minke whales – all of them. There are 80 species of whales, including dolphins and porpoises. That some of them are imperilled, there is no doubt.
Indeed, the endangered southern right whales were once abundant in New Zealand. In the 1800s in [Wellington] harbour it was said people were kept awake at night by the mating antics of the right whales in Port Nicholson.
New Zealand was once a whaling country. New Zealand is no longer a whaling country; it is an ardent advocate of whale conservation.
I have been the New Zealand Whaling Commissioner for more than five years. Prior to me it was Rt Hon Jim McLay for nine years, and before him it was Ian Stewart.
In Ian Stewart's time, in 1986, he chaired the International Whaling Commission soon after it adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling.
That moratorium exists today. It went into effect in 1986. More than 70 nations belong to the IWC; it takes a 75 per cent majority vote to overturn the ban on commercial whaling.
The moratorium was adopted because unbridled commercial whaling had destroyed whaling stocks and brought many species to the brink of extinction.
The largest mammal that ever existed on the planet is a blue whale, and from an initial population of 200,000 in 1900 only about 2000 of them now swim in the waters of the southern hemisphere. We are not quite sure how many. Whales spend a long time under water and are hard to count.
Not only blues, but also fin whales, humpback whales, sperm whales and minke whales were killed by commercial whalers of the 20th century – over two million whales altogether. The Southern Ocean ecosystem and the whales deserve a chance to recover. New Zealand supports the continuation of the ban on commercial whaling.
But, the treaty that sets up the International Whaling Commission has a loophole in it.
Under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, Article VIII allows a nation to give itself a quota to kill whales for the purposes of scientific research. These killings are exempt from regulation by the convention.
In order to stop scientific whaling it will be necessary to change the treaty. There is no agreement on changing the treaty.
Most nations do not go whaling. Only three have expressed interest in commercial whaling: Japan, Norway and Iceland. There are indigenous peoples in some other nations who take whales for cultural reasons. These indigenous takes are controlled through quotas set by the International Whaling Commission, unlike the so-called "scientific" take.
Scientific whaling is not controlled by the International Whaling Commission. It is controlled by the nation state that issues the permit. The only requirement is that the nation has adhered to the convention. Japan has been scientific whaling for years. Lately they have increased their takes enormously.
This year they plan to take up to 935 minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 humpbacks in the Southern Ocean. There were once as many as three-quarters of a million fin whales, but now they are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union. Humpback whales in some areas of the South Pacific are still endangered. They are listed as such in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.
In the New Zealand view there is no scientific justification for the whale hunt in the Southern Ocean. We believe that the information required to manage whale populations can be collected by non-lethal methods like sightings cruises, photography and dna analysis. Whales do not need to be killed to do research.
New Zealand believes that whales are worth more alive than dead. The New Zealand whale-watching industry is one of our prime attractions for overseas tourists. The same is true in Australia. The eastern Australian whale industry is based on humpback whales.
The whaling fleet is scheduled to start whaling in the Southern Ocean this weekend. It consists of a factory ship and five other vessels. A resupply vessel is scheduled to refuel the fleet in the middle of the season and unload hundreds of tonnes of whale meat from the factory ship.
The great majority of nations who belong to the Whaling Commission do not go whaling and do not want to go whaling. They make their diplomatic protests to the whaling countries strongly.
Resolution after resolution has been passed at the annual International Whaling Commission meetings condemning the scientific take of whales on the scale that has been going on. Japan continues its whaling programme despite our protests.
What is going on amounts to commercial whaling in drag.
All this is quite unnecessary. The world does not need to kill whales. There is plenty of food on this planet without killing whales. Their oil is no longer valuable. That trade stopped many years ago.
There is no way that a whale can be killed humanely. Often they suffer for a long time before they finally die after being harpooned. They often have to be harpooned twice. Killing whales is not only unnecessary, it is inhumane.
Critics of whale conservation say the case for conservation is emotional. It is not emotional. It is based on sound environmental logic. We need to conserve the resources on this planet if we are not to lose them altogether.
At a time when mega fauna like whales is beginning to be more widely appreciated around the world, it is out of tune with the times to kill whales.
There is a lot we don't know about whales. They have complex social lives. They have big brains with many abilities.
Whales are mammals, not fish. They are long-lived and slow-reproducing.
The New Zealand Government has had a consistent policy on whales, regardless of the political parties in power. The policy is one of firm opposition to commercial whaling.
The whales already face many threats. Global warming is one. Many of them live in cold waters, in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Whales suffer from ship strikes that are often fatal. They suffer from entanglements caused by fishing operations. They suffer from the increasing quantity of pollutants in the world's oceans.
There are many hazards that whales encounter. They do not need to be hunted. Life is hard enough for them.
If whaling is to be stopped, it is public opinion of the peoples in the world that will do it. We can work together to save the whales.
* This speech was delivered by Sir Geoffrey Palmer at an Open Day at Frank Kitts Park to celebrate the Gentle Giants of the Ocean last Saturday. Sir Geoffrey is New Zealand's Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission
- © Fairfax NZ News