The Humane Society International today filed an application in the Australian Federal Court for a case against the Japanese company that hunts whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary as part of a so-called scientific research program. If the application is successful, the society plans to seek a declaration that the hunt in the sanctuary is illegal and ask for it to be restrained this season.
The Australian Whale Sanctuary was created in 2000 under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and includes Australiaís claimed Antarctic waters.
The Humane Society International (HSI) says it will present evidence to the court to show that since the sanctuary was created Japan's only whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisya Ltd., has illegally killed over 400 whales within the sanctuary waters.
Under the EPBC Act conservationists are authorized to take third party actions to restrain offenses in the absence of government action.
"Killing whales in Australian waters is an offense. We hope HSIís case in the Federal Court will embarrass the whaling company and the Japanese government, and push the Australian government into prosecuting the whaling themselves," said HSIís Wildlife and Habitat Program Manager Nicola Beynon.
Minke whale in the Australian Whale Sanctuary (Photo by Peter Gill courtesy Australian Antarctic Division)
The Australian Whale Sanctuary is in the Commonwealth marine area, beyond the coastal waters of each state and territory. It includes all of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone extending to 200 nautical miles (350 kilometers) from the coast, and includes the waters around the Australian Antarctic Territory and Australia's external territories, such as Christmas, Heard and Macdonald islands.
Under the law, there are penalties of up to $110,000 and/or up to two years' imprisonment for illegally killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping, moving, interfering with or treating a cetacean in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.
The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. "Since 1987, in defiance of the moratorium, Japan has dressed up its whale hunts as research. Citing a loophole under the international convention, which allows for scientific whaling, Japan claims the hunts are legal and kills approximately 440 minke whales every year in Antarctic waters," the HSI says.
In the last four years, HSI estimates nearly a quarter of all the whales slaughtered in Japanís Antarctic research program have been killed in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.
Representing HSI is senior counsel Stephen Gageler of the Environmental Defenders Office and barrister Chris McGrath, who has prosecuted a number of successful EPBC Act cases.
The Australian government in the past has turned its back on a conservationist attempt to protect whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.
On December 13, 2002, the Parliamentary Secretary for Antarctica, Sharman Stone, stated that the government of Australia would not support the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's campaign to oppose illegal Japanese whaling activities in the sanctuary.
Stone said that the Australian government cannot condone people risking their lives to protect the whales in the Southern Ocean.
Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said, "We would not be going down to Antarctica if Australia took responsibility for policing international agreements that it is signatory to."