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Whale Watching In Australia

Will Migaloo Sizzle On A Japanese Hotplate?

“The winch, synchronized with the flensers knife, accelerates, and the bada ~ (the Norwegian word for baleen) with a wrenching tear, parts from the whale and swings wildly up into the air and outboard over the ship’s side, just grazing the bulwarks. During the half-second when it is outboard the winchman lets go his brake, and the lethal mass, which would smash to pulp anyone or anything in it’s way, plunges down toward the sea ~ usually! I’ve seen maybe five or six men killed by the bada alone’, Davison told me.....”
—from ‘Of Whales and Men’

There’s romance in the old whaling days, and one cannot help but to be fascinated by the stories of this bygone era ~ The men who paddled out in small boats armed with hand held harpoons to do battle with the great whales. Many drowned and even the more modern whaling operations in the early to mid 1900’s had a high level of danger. Books such as R.B. Robertson’s ~ ‘Of Whales and Men’ make for compelling reading. Times have though changed.

Australia is one of the finest places on the globe to watch humpback whales as they migrate along the East and West Australian coasts each winter. There’s something spiritual about these giants who have graced our oceans for 50 million years, yet we almost drove them to extinction over the past 200 years. Relatively few humpback whales were seen travelling along our shores 15 years ago. Now, you can almost be guaranteed of seeing humpback whales any day during winter and spring.

It’s a remarkable example of how Australians have become champions in whale conservation, and are now reaping the benefits via tourism.

Whale watching has become one of the fastest growing tourism industries in Australia, providing income for coastal townships like Merimbula, Narooma,  Jervis  Bay,  Byron  Bay,  Hervey  Bay and Exmouth. All along the East and West coasts, whale watching operators are spending money on boats, maintenance, deckhands and skippers, while whale watchers spend money on food, accommodation and tours. Whale watching has become big business. It’s one where everyone benefits, especially the whales.

The economic value of whale watching has sky rocketed. In 2003, whale watching contributed $276 million to the Australian Economy. It’s now worth 2.9 million per year in Sydney alone. In  New Zealand whale watching was worth NZ$119 million in 2004. For the Pacific  Islands, the average annual growth rate of whale watching is estimated at 47%, for the period 1998-2005.

In  Australia, 1.5 million people enjoy whale watching. Whale watching is worth 1.5 billion internationally! Over nine million people in 87 countries enjoy whale watching.

Ambassadors of whale watching and conservation, such as Olive Andrews of ‘Whales Alive’, Frank Future of the ‘Whale & Dolphin Watching Association, Mick McIntyre of  IFAW and others, are showing other nations the benefits of whale watching. These countries are now faring very well from tourism.

Tourists now travel from all over the globe to watch and swim with  Tonga’s humpback whales, as the Tongan’s said ‘no’ to whaling. Whale watching is now a powerful tourism asset for Tonga. It’s a healthy, sustainable industry. If the whales keep coming back, the tourists will be there.

The Tongan situation is fragile though, as each year, Tongan parliamentarians try to revive commercial whaling, but the King of Tonga refuses to look at it! The deeper issue is that Japanese aid goes into Tongan fisheries, so some Tongan’s become pro-Japanese whaling.

The greatest advances in whale conservation in recent years, is the proposed establishment of whale sanctuaries worldwide. In March 2003 Fiji created a whale sanctuary and joined a growing number of South Pacific countries including Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue and French Polynesia ~ all now actively protecting whales and dolphins.

It’s not all good news, as in recent years, IWC member nations being influenced by a Japanese led minority voted against the establishment of a regional ‘South Pacific Whale Sanctuary’. The reason we haven’t been able to establish this sanctuary is because the Japanese keep recruiting new members that support their whaling cause. In a funny twist, due to this stalemate, the  South  Pacific Islands have forged ahead and created their own whale sanctuaries.

Of the arguments put forward by the Japanese is that ~ Whales should be culled because they eat too much fish? One of the big problems is that although the Japanese have been killing minke whales for many years under the disguise of ‘scientific whaling’, they have their eyes set on humpback whales ~ the same whales that grace our shores each year.

Will Migaloo, our much loved white whale, end up sizzling on a Japanese hot plate in  Tokyo? It might just, as the Japanese plan to take humpback whales in the summer of ‘07/’08, under their new ‘expanded’ scientific whaling program, and the IWC seems powerless to stop them.

“Last year, they took 853 minke whales and 10 fin whales, in the Southern Ocean. They’ve taken fin whales for the first time ~ the second largest animal to have ever lived on this planet. Fin whales are recognized by the IUCN as an endangered species! The taking of fin whales is tragic, as even taking 10 whales could have a dramatic impact. Why would you kill an endangered species to study it?” says  Mick McIntyre, Director of IFAW Asia Pacific.

It’s interesting to note that whale meat is not an essential part of the people’s diet ~ only a tiny percentage of Japanese people eat whale meat regularly. Yet whale meat fetches extraordinary amounts in Japanese restaurants. Japan makes some 50 million, selling whale meat in Japanese restaurants.

“Sixty-six nations attended this year’s ~ 58th IWC meeting on the  Caribbean  island of  St Kitts in June.

Thanks to a vigorous recruiting campaign from Japan, several nations attended the meeting for the first time ~  Cambodia,  Marshall Islands,  Mali,  Gambia and  Togo, all voting along with  Japan.

This resulted in a  swing in the simple majority of votes to pro-whalers, a call to return to the bad old days of whaling in the 1980’s.

More Stories By Tony Karacsonyi

Tony Karacsonyi is a professional marine photographer who has been recognised globally for his exciting images. Marine photography has taken Tony to some of the world’s great places such as Papua New Guinea’s: Siassi, Trobriand and D’Entrecasteaux Islands,Tonga, Great Barrier Reef, Sabah, Ningaloo Reefs and Australia’s Coral Sea. In 1998, he was awarded with the prestigious Australian Geographic “Photographer of the Year“, for photography on giant cuttlefish and won several international awards, including a ‘runner up’ position in the “Wildlife Photographer of The Year” award in London, during 1996, 1997, 1998.

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Most Recent Comments
Valeria Rocco 03/28/08 05:11:50 AM EDT

Hi I am hoping you can pass this onto Tony Karacsonyi.

I was looking for great pics like yours of whales but on the western australian coats predominantly humpback, south right and I think they soemtimes get bluewhales - hoping you can help.

Best wishes

valeria Rocco
Margaret River