At first sight the answer seems to be a no-brainer. Australia until fairly recent took a relatively strong anti-whaling stance on the international stage under the former conservative Howard government; one of its environment ministers was (and probably still is) an active member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Australia also ended its whaling activities in 1978 with the closure of its whaling facilities in Albany, Western Australia (interestingly at a time when both state and federal governments again were run by the conservatives). Therefore the answer to the question of whether Australia is still killing whales of course seems to be a sounding ‘no’.
Things though are never that clear, especially when it comes to politics and economic interests. First there has been a change in government, with Australia electing Labor amongst other things on a strong anti-whaling platform. Since getting into government though the former environmental activist, rock singer and now environment minister Peter Garrett has reduced that platform to empty rhetoric and meaningless spin.
The Rudd government’s first blatant breach of its promises was its withdrawal from the plan of supporting the Sea Shepherd’s activities by shadowing the Japanese whaling fleet. But Garrett went even further: he even was involved in negotiating a deal with Japan that would give the Japanese whaling industry Australia’s backing for greater kill quotas in the North Atlantic in return for quota cutbacks in Australian waters. That already means the Australian government is seriously considering complicity in the killing whales; if this or any deal will go through it actually will be indirectly involved.
But that’s not Australia’s only enmeshment in projects endangering these ocean mammals. Woodside Petroleum is planning to build a gigantic gas extraction facility off the Kimberly Coast in the northern part of Western Australia (Kimberly Gas Hub) with an area covering 1.000 hectares (10 square kilometers). It would include Camden Sound, one of the Kimberley’s largest bays, which has been recently discovered as being one of the world’s biggest humpback whale nursery grounds, used by the whales to teach their calves important marine lessons: 381 pods were found schooling their calves to feed, ride the tides and breach. Scientists now believe that Camden Sound surpasses the number of pods found in the Caribbean’s Silver Banks region, which is usually listed as one of the world’s main humpback whale nursery grounds.
Both, the Western Australian state and the federal governments are in support of Woodside’s proposal, without seriously taking into account the environmental consequences of establishing the gas field. And in the current climate of recession or maybe even a global depression both governments might manipulate public opinion to to push through with their support for Woodside; nothing much has changed since Moss Cass gave his John Curtin Memorial Lecture of 1974. If the project is going ahead as planned then certainly whales will die as a consequence, which means Australia will not only be indirectly involved in the killing of whales but directly too.
Which brings us back to the question of whether Australia is killing whales: what seemed to be a clear ‘no’ has already at least become a fuzzy uncertainty and might actually soon be a rather tragic ‘yes’ if Australian governments follow their current trajectories.