I think, generally, the trajectory is towards greater ocean protection and greater protection of not just whales, but cetaceans across the board, that includes dolphins and porpoises, and we need to see that. We need to see that in the entire area of environmental stewardship, with better fisheries management to because the ocean is under pressure.
Transcript of interview on ABC Radio Perth – Drive with Geoff Hutchison, Friday 14 October 2022.
GEOFF HUTCHISON (HOST): Fremantle member, Josh Wilson, is about to fly off to represent Australia’s interests at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia. Josh Wilson, good afternoon to you.
JOSH WILSON: Hi, Geoff, how are you?
HUTCHISON: Yeah, nice to speak to you, Josh. I remember meetings of the International Whaling Commission in past decades being highly political events filled with dramatic protest, cries of hypocrisy and great anger. Is it different? Because I can’t recall the last time I even remembered us reporting on them.
WILSON: Well, the International Whaling Commission has been a really important and largely successful vehicle for whale conservation, and since 1986 putting in place the moratorium against commercial whaling, which has been very effective with a couple of exceptions, like you’ve just mentioned, with Norway. You’re right to say that at times, I guess, like any gathering of nation states, things can get a bit willing. And there has historically been differences of view about the best approach to whaling. But our approach is very clear – Australia has a long-standing role as a leader when it comes to whale conservation, particularly in the southern ocean. And that’s what we seek to do when we participate in the IWC. And this time around we’re hoping to take that a bit further because we have a candidate, Dr. Nick Gales, that we’re hoping will be chosen through the IWC as the new vice Commissioner for the next couple of years.
HUTCHISON: Okay. In the past, Japan and Norway have defied the international communities to some extent and, and I remember so many times that Japanese delegates to these meetings would say they were only ever catching, I think was Minke whales, primarily for research purposes. And then Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd would be chasing them deep into those southern ocean waters. Have we had much of that in recent times? I don’t want to put everything down to a pandemic, but I sense that has paused as well.
WILSON: It has, and that’s been a really big achievement. And again, Australia played a significant and ultimately effective role. I mean, we did bring an action in the International Court of Justice back in 2010, and our position there was ultimately upheld. And, as it stands, Japan is confining the whaling activities that it still does to its own territorial waters, and it hasn’t been whaling in the Southern Ocean for the last few years. And that’s a good change because, that’s a very precious part of the home range for whales. We get to see them as they pass up and down our coasts, but they need to be protected in the Southern Ocean and that’s one of our ongoing focuses.
HUTCHISON: Does Australian government policy in this area change from government to government? Or has there been absolute consistency in the last decades with how Australia views whaling and also the preservation and environmental considerations of ocean mammals?
WILSON: Happily, it’s one of those areas that really has bipartisan support, and I think that’s off the back of the way that the Australian community regards whales. We do think, quite rightly, that we have a special kind of environmental and oceanic stewardship responsibility when it when it comes to whales and we’ve practised that through government of either persuasion. There are differences, I think between the parties, perhaps in the broader area of ocean conservation, but on whales, since four decades, as you say, certainly from the 1980s forward when we stopped whaling ourselves in 1978 and from the 1980s forward, which was when the commercial moratorium was put in, the Australian government on behalf of the Australian community has been active in seeking to protect whales.
HUTCHISON: On ABC Radio Perth, Josh Wilson, Federal Labor Member for Fremantle, is my guest, about to go to Slovenia, to a conference of the International Whaling Commission. What should we expect in the next year in the next decade? Is there a belief, for instance, that Norway’s appetite for hunting Minke while, and eating whale, will be reduced or the same said of Japan? There’s always this argument put forward by representatives of those countries, they say , well, we do this for cultural reasons. And similarly, when we speak of ocean mammals, you know, we speak of dolphins and porpoises as well. The Taiji dolphin hunt began in Japan last month, you know, internationally infamous for, for turning the sea red. And I did read a quote from the Taiji mayor saying ‘foreign activists ask us why we kill these cute animals, that we see them as a vital source of food, even now, and we want Westerners to understand that.’ Is there an understanding of those things? Or is there an expectation that, over time, populations of those countries will convince them to abandon whaling practices and the and the dolphin hunt?
WILSON: Well, I think that trajectory is, as you described, and communities even in the countries that do still undertake a bit of commercial whaling – that’s Norway, Japan, and Iceland – there’s quite a lot of community feeling in opposition to those practices. It’s not universal. And as you say, there’s a sort of a cultural background of taking whales. The IWC does manage First Nations subsistence whaling, so some of that does occur. But that is literally whaling that First Nations people undertake in places like Alaska, for as for their own food source, it has no commercial aspect to it. I think, generally, the trajectory is towards greater ocean protection and greater protection of not just whales, but cetaceans across the board, that includes dolphins and porpoises, and we need to see that. We need to see that in the entire area of environmental stewardship, with better fisheries management to because the ocean is under pressure fisheries are under pressure. And we’ve got some new risks now – commercial whaling presented a particular risk to whales, it drove them to the brink of extinction. I think at one point that we only had about 1500 that were still transiting through Australian waters, if you think about the humpback, that’s now into the 10s of 1000s, and the humpback, last year, was taken off the threatened species list. So that’s a story of success. But we have new risks, we have climate change, the acidification and warming of the ocean, we have marine plastic, which is which is a big problem, and the concentration of heavy metals in the ocean. So, I don’t want to tell a bleak Friday afternoon tale, but there’s just no doubt that we’ve got our work. All of us, Australia, Australians and the global community we’ve got our work cut out for us if we want to better protect the oceans and the life that depends on the oceans.
HUTCHISON: Really appreciate your speaking to me. Fly well, thank you very much for that, Josh Wilson.
WILSON: Thanks, Geoff.