Whale Sanctuaries

I seek leave to make an explanation for directing to the minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation questions regarding whale sanctuaries.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Whale sanctuaries. You won't have an answer to this; don't worry about it. Every winter, South Australians witness the migration of the southern right whales to our South Australian waters as part of their breeding cycle, and the whales take up residence at the head of the bight for a five-month period, where they use the waters as a calving ground and nursery.

Late last week I was made aware of a disturbing event that occurred during the week beginning 8 September, which left many calves vulnerable to predation from great white sharks because they did not have the protection of their mothers. On this day, witnesses watched as SARDI launched two inflatable boats and chased down whales in order to tag them for movement monitoring and to obtain biological samples. I understand that nine whales were tagged and 15 had samples removed.

Prior to the disturbance, it was noted there were approximately 77 whales in the area; by the end of the chasing there were only 12. Whilst SARDI possessed the correct permits to enter the sanctuary and stated it was abiding by world's best practice, witnesses stared on in disbelief as the whales were chased until exhaustion. My questions for the minister are:

1.Is the government aware of this process and does it endorse this particular practice?

2.Does the government understand that this is world's best practice to leave calves vulnerable without the protection of their mothers for an extended period of time?

3.Can the minister assure this place that no whales were put at risk at any point during this process?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:32 :16 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions and will refer them to the minister for environment. I am sure he will bring back a response. I have to say that I've had the great pleasure of visiting the head of the bight and being able to observe firsthand whales in that area during calving time. It is indeed a magnificent sight and the viewing amenities and platforms there are wonderful as well. I appreciated very much the opportunity to do that.

I certainly don't have information about current practices, but as a former minister for environment, I always held in high regard and awe the work that our officers from that agency did. They were people of enormous passion and commitment to the environment and worked extremely hard and always strove to utilise world's best practice in all their endeavours. I would be most surprised if those practices were not continuing today, but that is for the minister to answer, and I am sure he will at his earliest convenience.

8 September 2015

In reply to the Hon. J.M. LENSINK (24 September 2014)

1.The Government is aware of this process. The research activity is undertaken by the South Australian Research and Development Institute with all relevant State and Commonwealth Permits and with Primary Industries and Regions SA Animal Ethics approval, and followed the protocols developed by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Australian Antarctic Division, for satellite tagging of large whales.

2.I am advised that at no stage during any approach of cow-calf pairs, whether during satellite tag deployment or biopsy sampling, were calves separated from mothers.

3.I am advised that no whales were put at risk during this process. The driver of the inflatable vessel has extensive experience of driving around large whales approaches lasted on average 5 minutes. If any individual showed a high level of evasive behaviour, the approach to tag or sample that individual was halted.

The study ran from 6 to 8 September 2014, and cliff-top counts of whales provided by the Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study group recorded 70 individual whales on 5 September at the Head of Bight and 58 whales on 11 September.