Launch of Blue Whale research project

Minister Burke launches the Antarctic Blue Whale Project at the International Whaling Commission in Jersey.


Video transcript

Tony Burke: Thank you very much Donna, Commissioners, Chair, friends all. It’s a great pleasure to be here today and before I get into any of the specific reasons for tonight’s function – thank you Donna for your representation, both for the work you do as commissioner for australia but in watching the leadership role you’ve taken in a number of the discussions today I think does great credit not only to what we hope to see from the International Whaling Commission but for what’s reflected in many of the people here and I would like to acknowledge that tonight.

I should mention as well, of the many jobs I’ve aspired to in our Parliament I never aspired to be a speaker and chairing the meeting – Herman, where are you? Extraordinary. In 2008, Australia with a number of other nations represented here decided to start to promote the concept of having research partnerships. We began then to move with the recent partnership based on the Southern Ocean. Tonight we’re able to launch, and I am so pleased that so many of you have been able to come in significant numers tonight, to be able to launch the first of those research projects. You don’t get a more iconic one in the ocean than to be launching a research project into the blue whale. When we think of those early explorers and the great expeditions into the Southern Ocean where they would go into bays, and see them abundant with the biggest animal on earth, ever and in the space of one lifetime to have moved to the situation now where the largest animal ever on earth is almost impossible to find.

The irony in the note of that is hard to get past – when something is big it is meant to be obvious. Yet the largest animal ever in the history of our planet is so difficult to find that we know in the space of one lifetime 300,000 were killed but we don’t know how many there are left.

We don’t know nearly enough about where they breed, where they feed, how they live. It says so much that is good about the work of commission that we are all with today to know that we realise that we need to find out.

Now to find out so much more about the life of the blue whale we first need to find the blue whales. The research partnership being spoken of tonight will be using acoustic methods and using that wonderful opportunity that we have of the particularly low frequency of the call of the blue whale to be able to find where they are and to observe, in some cases tag but most importantly to learn. Not merely to learn their number but to learn their habits. The few places where we know of where we know that are their feeding grounds we are learning to cherish and preserve that habitat. Right now in Australia we have the draft maps out for our own marine conservation with the Perth canyon one of the few places around our shores where we know the blue whale goes to feed and will hopefully be protected forever more from trawling.

These sorts of opportunities are only arrived at through knowledge and we know our knowledge at the moment isn’t where it needs to be.

So over the course of the next two or three summers teams will go out, go looking for the blue whale, go looking, go finding, go learning. When we meet in three or four years time that data will have been able to plug back in to the very best of the computer models that are available and as a result of that we will still be dealing with an extraodinary problem but we will be dealing with it from a knowledge base that is not with us today.

That means our work in trying to preserve and see the numbers build again of blue whales wil be so much stronger than it is now simply as a result of the partnership being launched tonight.

I won’t pretend for a minute that one research project changes massively the thirst for knowledge which is out there for cetaceans. Nor should we underestimate the fact that this research project, by focusing on the blue whale is, of itself, iconic and does, of itself, inspire further work in so many other areas.

So while tonight we have an opportunity to chat amongst ourselves, to enjoy the company and to reminice about the stories and battles of long ago, and some probably more recent we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that every time we launch a new research project we do the opposite of where we were at 100 years ago. We see that there is a priority in rebuilding, there is a priority in understanding that mystery, known as the ocean, that mystery that occupies so much of the planet we inhabit is something where we have obligations of conservation and nurturing and care that were nearly wrecked in the course of one lifetime and that our generations now are saying, never again.

It is a wonderful thing, we are all part of it and in four years time we’ll have a foundation to stand on that we don’t have today.

In recognition of the nature of that partnership, I recognise all of you and appreciate your attendance here tonight - I’d like for the United States, Commissioner Medina, to be able to join my remarks.

Thank you.

This page was last updated on 12 July 2011