Whale research takes budget hits

World leading non-lethal whale research is hanging in the balance as the Federal Government cuts a flagship Australian program. The Federal Budget has allocated $1 million for only the next year to support a long-running International Whale Science Initiative, meaning it could be wound up despite an call from scientists to maintain it at a critical time. A decision on a $6 million voyage to study endangered Antarctic blue whales could be made too late to mount it next summer, while job losses in the Australian Antarctic Division are also expected to hit whale research. With around $32 million injected into non-lethal whale research by previous governments, direct evidence gathered played a prominent part in Australia’s case against Japan’s “scientific” whaling. The International Court of Justice found in March that Japan’s program could not be justified as scientific research, and was in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling. Since then the Japanese Government has announced plans to return to the Antarctic next summer for non-lethal research, and in 2015-16 with a new scientific hunt. The International Fund for Animal Welfare said it was extremely disappointing that the Government would not fund vital whale research beyond 2015. “Australian investment in non-lethal research is more crucial than ever, if Australia’s victory is to have real meaning,” IFAW marine campaign Matthew Collis said. “This budget is a blow for the many Australian and international scientists who have pioneered ground-breaking research with the Australian government’s support.” A group of 66 leading international marine mammal scientists wrote to the Federal Government earlier this year calling for the continuation of research funding. “It is integral in demonstrating the feasibility of, and the government’s commitment to, non-lethal, evidence-based and progressive scientific research,” the group’s letter said. Signatory Dr Alexandre Zerbini, of the United States, said: “under the leadership of very capable Australian government scientists, in just a few years multi-national research teams produced never-before-seen information on the ecology of whale species in the Antarctic.” The Community and Public Sector Union confirmed that among 480 redundancies targeted for the Environment Department were scientists’ jobs at the Australian Antarctic Division, where the whale program is headquartered. A spokesman for the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, pointed to the continuing funding for 2014-15, and to $2 million for a national Whale and Dolphin Protection Plan, including a whale-watching industry “National Whale Trail”. “Future (whale research) operations will be considered in light of the ICJ decision, and the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in September,” the spokesman said. He said funding for the $6 million blue whale program was still within the budget, but allocated to the contingency reserve, with the program on hold pending the outcome of the ICJ case, and the IWC meeting. “The Government is now considering the matter,” he said.

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