Australian whales endangered by Japanese whaling

This video from Australia is called Swimming with Dwarf minke whales on board Eye to Eye Marine Encounters.

From The Age daily in Australia:

Australia’s swim-with-whales tourism more lucrative than Japanese harpooning operations

December 1, 2013

Andrew Darby

Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media

Australian scientists have tracked a minke whale from the Great Barrier Reef deep into the sub-Antarctic for the first time, sharply raising the stakes of Japanese whaling.

Until now, the Japanese ”scientific” hunt, which kills minkes, was thought to harpoon whales that lived almost exclusively in the Antarctic.

But a satellite tracking program on dwarf minke whales, the focus of growing reef tourism, followed one nicknamed Spot deep into the Southern Ocean before its tag expired. Asked if these whales could be taken by the whalers, CSIRO environmental scientist Matt Curnock said: ”We are very concerned about that, yes.

”In tourism, they are worth many millions of dollars more than they are in the Japanese whale-meat market.”

Researchers from James Cook University and the CSIRO are the first in the world to track the movements of dwarf minkes, which have similar proportions to Antarctic minkes but grow up to eight metres, instead of their polar cousins’ 9.8 metres.

The dwarfs are the focus of a burgeoning swim-with-minkes tourism industry on the reef that JCU economist Natalie Stoeckel says is conservatively worth $16 million.

Under a strict protocol, the whales are left to approach a limited number of swimmers at their own inclination.

A JCU marine scientist, Jimmy White, attached tags to the dorsal fins of four dwarf minkes off Lizard Island in July. The satellite tags, the size and shape of a halved golf ball, send back data that project leader Alastair Birtles said transformed our understanding of these animals and answered the mystery of where they migrated.

They swam south from the reef along the east Australian coastline, sometimes covering 100 kilometres per day. Off southern Queensland, two tags stopped transmitting, probably as they dropped out of the whales’ fins.

But two kept sending signals as the whales swam down the NSW coast and around Victoria, westward through Bass Strait. A third whale then stopped sending, while Spot’s transmitter kept going as it swam into the Southern Ocean as far as 54.38 degrees south – iceberg territory – making a journey of 6000 kilometres before the final transmission on October 11.

In 2006, a Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research scientific paper told of taking 16 dwarf minkes, some inside the Antarctic pack ice zone. In recent seasons, Japan’s official Antarctic cruise report has claimed dwarf minke whales were not targeted.

But Dr Curnock said it would be almost impossible for harpooners in Antarctic waters to know whether the minke they were hunting was a dwarf.

”You can’t reliably tell from above the surface, unless you’ve got extraordinarily clear, calm water to see their colour patterns,” Dr Curnock said.

The scientists’ discovery comes with a new whaling season only weeks away and the International Court of Justice yet to decide on Australia’s plea to ban the hunt.

According to Sea Shepherd anti-whaling activists, the factory ship Nisshin Maru this week underwent sea trials after a refit. They expect it to depart from Japan within days.

Sea Shepherd Australia’s chairman, Bob Brown, said the Queensland scientists’ discovery of the minkes’ journey would change the way Australians thought about them.

”It defies belief that [at] one end of their range, they are valued so highly and, at the other, they could be harpooned,” he said.

Japanese Slaughtering Whales in Ocean Santuary : Discovery News: here.

Photos: SF Kayakers up close and personal with whales — don’t try this at home: here.

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