Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Australia urges global whale sanctuary
A hunted minke is hauled aboard a Norwegian whaler
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
The Australian government has joined forces with Greenpeace to campaign for a worldwide whale sanctuary.
The Australian Environment Minister, Robert Hill, said: "We don't always see eye to eye with Greenpeace, but on this issue we are prepared to march the same course side by side".
He was speaking at the launch of a petition on Greenpeace Australia's website, which the organisers hope will attract one million supporters.
It urges the Australian Government "to continue to press the International Whaling Commission for approval of regional whale sanctuaries toward the goal of a global whale sanctuary".
The Indian ocean and the Southern ocean around Antarctica have already been declared sanctuaries by the IWC. But the protection they offer is limited.
Ian Higgins of Greenpeace Australia said at the launch of the petition: "It may come as a surprise to some, but whales are not guaranteed protection in the oceans of our world".
"The number of whales killed for profit each year is increasing."
He said 1,078 whales had been killed so far this year, despite the IWC's moratorium on commercial hunting which has been in place since 1986.
Two countries continue to catch whales by making use of loopholes in the IWC rules.
Japan, which kills about 300 Antarctic minke whales annually, does so in the name of science. The IWC says that a member is entitled to kill any number of any whale species, so long as it is for research.
Norway, the other IWC member to continue whaling, is not bound by the moratorium because it objected to it when it was first proposed.
This year it killed 589 north east Atlantic minkes - bad weather prevented it catching all the 753 whales in the quota it had awarded itself.
Minkes, the smallest of the great whales, are relatively numerous. There are probably about 750,000 in the Antarctic.
Rare whales at risk
But conservationists say that allowing the minkes to be hunted would open the way to exploitation of much rarer whales, because it is very hard to distinguish between the meat of different species.
They also say that whaling should not be allowed to resume until there is a humane killing method, which effectively means that it is unlikely ever to be allowed again.
Japan and Norway say the IWC, by listening to these arguments, has ceased to be an organisation to conserve whaling, and is now concerned only with protecting the whales themselves.