Whaling `could damage tourism'

Following New Zealand's stance on commercial whaling making the headlines recently, Whale Watch Kaikoura chief operating officer Kauahi Ngapora says the country's tourism industry could be adversely affected.

Mr Ngapora said he believed New Zealand's image as 100 per cent pure and the tourism industry as a whole would not be done any favours if the country were to be looked upon internationally as a pro-whaling nation which has supported the reintroduction of commercial whaling activities.

Whale Watch did not support or endorse the hunting of cetaceans "in our back yard", although whaling nations had the right, however unpopular, to do as they wished in their own waters, Mr Ngapora said. They should not be permitted to come into the southern ocean's whale sanctuary and hunt for whatever purpose.

He said Whale Watch actively promoted whale watching as an alternative to hunting, as an activity which offered economic gain, business development, employment and community benefit.

Whaling has been back on the agenda in Parliament recently after Australia refused to support a compromise led by New Zealand's representative at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Florida.

The draft proposal, led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, was to again allow commercial whaling but with a 10-year sinking lid on the number that could be caught.

Australia rejected the draft proposal and reiterated a threat to take legal action at the International Court of Justice if a diplomatic solution is not agreed by November.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has said that while New Zealand is taking it "methodically", the Australians are being influenced by election year politics.

Prime Minister John Key denied that there was any rift with Australia, but earlier Mr McCully said the two countries were "in quite different places".

"It's fair enough, I think, to observe that in Australia it's an election year and this is a hot political topic in Australia," he said.

"However the Australian Government handles its domestic politics is a matter for them but it does create a different background as against our own situation."

Asked if he meant the Australian threat of legal action was a political ploy, Mr McCully said: "No, I'm simply saying that New Zealand is taking this methodically."

He said that Australia may not even want New Zealand's support for any possible legal action.

New Zealand already had a temporary judge on the ICJ and Australia did not, which meant Australia would be deprived of having one of its own judges adjudicating in any case.

But Mr Key said New Zealand was "not in a different position to Australia".

Commercial whaling "might be acceptable if it was acceptable to others", he said.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Chris Carter said New Zealand was "kowtowing" to pressure from a handful of countries.

"In a little over a year John Key has turned New Zealand from being a world leader in marine mammal conservation to being an active advocate for the resumption of commercial whaling."

He said public pressure was the only way to stop the National Government agreeing to commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean.

"John Key's great plan to save the whales is apparently allowing the Japanese to hunt them commercially. This appalling move can only be stopped by public pressure, so the New Zealand Labour Party is starting an online petition," Mr Carter said.

Despite a moratorium on whaling since 1986, about 2000 are killed every year, mostly by Japan in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.

Kaikoura Star