WHALES IN THEIR SIGHTS
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
BYRON Bay author Di Morrissey has called for a boycott on Japanese products following the announcement that Japan intends to hunt the endangered humpback whale.
Japan has signalled plans to ask the International Whaling Commission to extend its quota of 440 minke whales killed each year to include humpback whales.
Whale lovers have branded the move as inhumane, saying it would push the humpbacks back to the brink of extinction as well as threaten the lucrative whale-watching industry.
Yesterday Di Morrissey, the patron for the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, described the move as 'intolerable'.
"I say to people let's do whatever we can to stop it," she said.
"Boycott Japanese products, whatever it takes."
Ms Morrissey described the reasons given by Japan for the hunt as 'unnecessary and unscientific'.
"It's a money-making exercise, that's all," she said.
"We may even lose our Migaloo (the rare albino humpback regularly seen in Australian waters)."
Researchers at the SCU Whale Research Centre warn any resumption of humpback whaling would have a drastic result on current humpback populations.
"The humpback population that migrates up and down the East Coast of Australia is only now showing signs of ongoing increase, but has still not recovered from the impacts of whaling last century," SCU whale research director, Associate Professor Peter Harrison, said.
From an estimated population of 20,000 to 30,000 prior to whaling, humpbacks were on the brink of extinction when whaling ceased in the 1960s, with populations falling to between 200 and 500, Prof Harrison said.
"The latest estimate puts the population at around 7000 and growing at 11 per cent each year," he said.
Prof Harrison said the humpbacks could be pushed back to the brink as the older whales were hunted.
"They are the most important whales in ensuring the population increases because these large, sexually-mature whales are the ones producing calves each year.
"It's a totally depressing scenario," he said.
Resumed whaling would also threaten Australia's important whale-watching industry which contributes about $300 million to our economy, Prof Harrison said.
As well as fewer whales to be seen, the hunting could also threaten the industry through changes in the whale's behaviour once they start to recognise that a boat travelling to- wards them is not full of loving sightseers, but men with harpoon guns.
"We might have some serious implications with aggressive behaviours," Prof Harrison said.
The SCU Whale Research Centre advises any one concerned over the plight of the humpback whale to write to the Federal Government, and Prime Minister John Howard, reminding him of Australia's opposition to lethal whaling.
"Japan's scientific research questions are largely invalid and they could do it without killing the whales," Prof Harrison said.
"They could take skin sam- ples after the whale has shed them, just as we do."