Whale protection

The need for protection
There are many human activities that pose threats to cetaceans. Whaling is usually the first that comes to mind, but there are others.
  •           Water traffic including harassment and ship-strike.
  •      Obstacles such as netting operations, light fishing gear, aquaculture infrastructure.
  •           Debris - ingestion of plastics and other waste.
  •          Environmental degradation including habitat loss and pollution.
  •           Noise.
  •           Habituation to human processes.
  •           Inappropriate actions by people trying to approach cetaceans.
Some of these processes can interfere with feeding, social and mating activity and some can kill outright.
Whales and other cetaceans are protected in Australian waters under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Act applies to waters beyond three nautical miles from the coastline out to a distance of 200 nautical miles.
The EPBC Act prohibits anyone from disturbing, harming or killing cetaceans and includes fines and even jail sentences for offenders. This legislation applies to Australian citizens even when they are in other parts of the world.
Most Australian state and territory governments, because they have jurisdiction over waters within three nautical miles of shore, have also introduced legislation to protect whales in their waters. Queensland for example has rules for approaching whales as part of the Nature Conservation (Wildlife Management) Regulation 2006.

There is, for the most part, reasonable consistency between the Australian and state/territory legislation. Unfortunately, recent changes in some jurisdictions have compromised the level of protection provided to whales. In Queensland, the Newman Government abandoned the commercial whale watching permits system (except within declared marine parks) making the management and monitoring of the industry logistically impossible. In 2014, without consultation with researchers or NGOs, it also announced its support for whale-swim activities, which the AWCS considers unnecessary and potentially stressful to the recovering humpback population.
National whale sanctuaries
Nations have sovereignty over their coastal waters and may therefore designate them to be whale sanctuaries. Australia was among the first countries to take such a step, and has declared its territorial waters to a distance of 200 nautical miles to be part of the Australian Whale Sanctuary.
International Whale Sanctuaries
The rules of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) allow for the establishment of whale sanctuaries in international waters. As the term implies, whales in such declared areas are supposed to be protected. The declaration of an international whale sanctuary in the IWC requires a three-quarters (75%) majority vote.
In 1979 the IWC established the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary (IOS) which covers virtually all of the Indian Ocean from the Arabian Sea to 55 degrees South latitude.
A proposal in 1994 for the circumpolar Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary (SOS) was also successful. The SOS adjoins the IOS, effectively extending it to Antarctica. Elsewhere the SOS has 40 degrees South latitude as its northern boundary, dropping to 60 degrees South below and to the west of South America. Tragically, most of Japan's scientific whaling occurs within this "sanctuary".
Since 2000 Australia and New Zealand have been leading an effort to establish a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary (SPS). Supported by most island nations in the South Pacific, the sanctuary would provide added security for severely depleted whale populations in the South Pacific, extending the protection for those that migrate from the SOS to breed in tropical waters.
Members of the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), based in Apia, Independent Samoa have worked together to develop regional protection zones, research programs, and whale watching regulations.
In 2001 Brazil introduced a proposal for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (SAS) which would extend south to the SOS.
Japan also has sanctuaries on its agenda. Supported by its pro-whaling allies, it has successfully opposed the establishment of the South Pacific and South Atlantic Whale Sanctuaries. Japan has also sought to decrease the protection for whales in the SOS, moved to have topic of whale sanctuaries removed from the IWC agenda, and put forward a proposal to have the SOS overturned. In these three endeavours it has been unsuccessful.
Interestingly, the first international whale sanctuary was established in 1938, decades before any IWC members took a stand against commercial whaling. The whaling nations were so confident in the success of their management techniques in the popular whaling areas of the time that they felt they could spare one relatively unexploited, remote area from the harpoon. In a seemingly generous but ill-fated gesture, whaling was prohibited in waters of the Southern Ocean south of 40 degrees South latitude between 70 degrees West and 160 degrees West longitude.
Inevitably however, over-exploitation elsewhere caused one whale stock after another to crash. Rather than reduce whaling quotas to levels that could be sustained and allow depleted populations to recover, the IWC instead rescinded the sanctuary declaration in 1955 and transferred a significant proportion of its whaling quotas to these previously protected waters.


Dedicated to



education and