Humpbacks today are beloved in Australia, with thousands of people flocking to the ocean every year to watch them frolic along the east coast. Though we now have a reverence for their intelligence and beauty, this hasn’t always been the case. They were once only valued after death, when their oil was used for heating, and their baleen used as whalebone in clothing. There are a few countries who also continue to hunt them illegally as a food source. Read more to find out when this approach to whaling changed in Australia and what whale conversation looks like today.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 for the regulation of whaling. Today, there are 89 member countries with only 3 of those – Japan, Norway and Iceland – still engaged in whaling. The Commission established a global ban on commercial whaling in 1986, and established 2 key whale sanctuaries to ensure their survival.
Whaling in Australia continued until 1978, when a change in public attitude forced the Australian Government to conduct an inquiry into whaling. It was banned the following year. After this, the Australian Whale Sanctuary, which is home to 45 species of whale and dolphin, was established. This sanctuary includes the entire Australian marine area, beyond the waters of each state and territory. It is a criminal offence to kill, capture, injure, harass, chase or herd whales, dolphins or porpoises within Australian waters.
In countries such as Japan, Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands of Denmark, whaling for sustenance and profit has been conducted for decades. Whalers in these nations think of whaling as their only source of income, and they are loathe to give it up.
Japan believes that their scientific research program is necessary to prove to the IWC that sustainable commercial whaling is not a threat to whales as a whole. But studies throughout the 20th century show that this just isn’t true. The International Court of Justice has been on Australia’s side, but it hasn’t stopped the whaling nations from continuing their practices.
Australia has been a driving force behind whale conservation since the end of its whaling industry. In 2010, Australia was responsible for taking Japan to the International Court of Justice in a bid to ban them permanently from scientific whaling. In 2014, the Court upheld Australia’s bid, which was a huge positive for the anti-whaling movement.
Guidelines have been developed by environmental agencies on how to best deal with whales and their conservation. The recovery of the humpback population has contributed to the rapid growth of the whale watching industry in Australia, and to that end the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching 2005 was developed to minimise human impact. Everyone must follow regulations on how to behave around whales. Feeding or touching whales is strictly prohibited, and vessels must travel slowly and carefully, staying at least 100 metres away.