The International Whaling Commission (IWC) hosted a workshop on commercial whalewatching this weekend in Brisbane. In a break with tradition, the IWC jointly funded with the Australian government the workshop with operators from over 20 countries attending to primarily help develop an online handbook to facilitate companies who might wish to start a commercial whale watching business. This weighty organisation of 89 member countries was formed in 1946 to manage the worlds whale stocks , primarily for the development of the whaling industries of the world. This mandate is now largely considered well out of step by most developed countries such as Audtralia who have swapped the killing of whales for a newer and more sustainable industry, whalewatching.
Worth $300 million to Australia’s coastal tourism industry, the IWC reported at the conference that whale watching is now worth more than $2.2 Billion world wide and is conducted in more than 100 countries, states and territories. Compared to the possible $300 million raised by the 3 main whaling countries which remain, Norway, Iceland and Japan. It is widely believed that Japan has encouraged a large number countries to join the IWC as members by offering foreign aid assistance in return for aligning their vote on the sensitive whaling issue. Australia is taking Japan to the international court in June and July testing the legitimacy of the “scientific” nature of their whaling operations. The current US chair of the IWC Ryan Wulff is a very progressive man who is keen to develop whalewatching around the world as the main global industry and a legitimate alternative to the lure of a return to whaling as many of the worlds whale stocks have recovered almost to the level of stocks after WW2. A real concern by veteran whale scientists such as Dave Paton of blue planet marine and whale watch operators around the coast is that the moratorium on whaling in place since 1982 will lose traction at the next IWC meeting in South Korea next year marking a return to whaling.
Commercial whale watch operator Frank Future of Imagine Cruises who attended the IWC conference representing Port Stephens operators reported that all the attendees shared this concern. “No one really knows how whales would respond to boat approach if whaling on this species recommenced. It has been over 35 years since Humpback whales have been in the harpoon sites in the southern hemisphere and the benign passage of over 17000 whales expected this year might not be so predictable.” Most whales we see today have been born since the end of whaling in Australia in 1973 when only a few hundred whales were left.
Already the first few pods have been sighted moving north along both the east and west coasts with the official start of the season in Port Stephens on 29th May.