Australia’s swim-with-whales tourism more lucrative than Japanese harpooning operations

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Australian scientists have tracked a minke whale from the Great Barrier Reef deep into the sub-Antarctic for the first time, sharply raising the stakes of Japanese whaling.

Until now, the Japanese “scientific” hunt, which kills minkes, was thought to harpoon whales that lived almost exclusively in the Antarctic.

But a satellite tracking program on dwarf minke whales, the focus of growing reef tourism, followed one nicknamed Spot deep into the Southern Ocean before its tag expired. Asked if these whales could be taken by the whalers, CSIRO environmental scientist Matt Curnock said: “We are very concerned about that, yes.

“In tourism, they are worth many millions of dollars more than they are in the Japanese whale-meat market.”

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(Image courtesy of Heath Powell, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Researchers from James Cook University and the CSIRO are the first in the world to track the movements of dwarf minkes, which have similar proportions to Antarctic minkes but grow up to eight metres, instead of their polar cousins’ 9.8 metres.

The dwarfs are the focus of a burgeoning swim-with-minkes tourism industry on the reef that JCU economist Natalie Stoeckel says is conservatively worth $16 million.

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