SYDNEY—A report showing whales are worth more to the world alive than dead will be used to bolster the case for conservation at the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the federal government says.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett used the inaugural National Whale Day today to launch a progress report on the government-commissioned Global Cetaceans Snapshot.
The snapshot outlines the economic benefits of whale watching, summarises the global conservation status of whales and dolphins, and lists the main threats to their survival.
It found visitors to whale-watching areas in high-income countries were spending $1.5 billion per year by 1998, with the figure forecast to grow by $3 to $4 billion a year over the next 20 years.
The number of whale-watching visitors was also expected to increase by 10 million a year.
Mr Garrett said he would be taking the report to the next meeting of the IWC, to be held in Chile on June 23.
"Critically this progress report shows that what we've been saying about the arguments for whale conservation is strongly grounded in science," he told reporters in Sydney.
"We don't think that scientific whaling is scientific. What we do say is that we need to increase our collaborative research with other countries, non-lethal research on whales, and recognise that whale-watching as an economic activity is a sustainable business for us, not only here in Australia but right around the world."
Mr Garrett said Australia had a lot of support from like-minded countries at the IWC, but it still faced a tough battle.
"We're actually talking about a whole new approach to looking at whaling at the International Whaling Commission," he said.
"We're talking about modernising the commission, bringing it into the 21st century, recognising that the value that these whales have for us alive is much greater than the value that they have for us as a world community dead."
The opposition has accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of surrendering to the Japanese over whaling.
Mr Rudd, during his visit to Japan this week, emphasised a diplomatic solution to the two nations' disagreement over whaling, a softer stance than prior threats of taking Japan to an international court.
The opposition has also criticised the government for not yet appointing a diplomatic envoy to take up the whaling issue with Japan.
But Mr Garrett said Australia had been clear with Japan on its opposition to whaling.
"We'll consider legal options in due course," he said.
"We will announce an envoy in due course.
"For the moment the focus is clearly on the upcoming IWC meeting."
Greenpeace Asia Pacific chief executive officer Steve Shallhorn said he was hopeful Japan might change its stance on scientific whaling at the IWC meeting.
"The one thing the Australian government has been very successful in doing is raising whaling up the political ladder in Tokyo," he said.
"It's now an issue that is being dealt with by the Japanese prime minister.
"We'll have to see if that translates into movement at the IWC and of course the proof will be whether or not there's another expedition by Japan into the southern ocean whaling sanctuary later on this year."
The International Fund for Animal Welfare's National Whale Day was marked today with 25 events around Australia to celebrate and promote the protection of whales and dolphins.