Dugongs, like whales, are long lived marine mammals. They feed on sea grass in northern Australian waters and are slow breeders, suckling a single calf for over 18 months.
Two papers published last year in the British Journal Animal Conservation indicate that dugong populations in the Torres Strait are grossly over-fished. The Australian Government accepts that about 1,000 dugongs are killed each year by indigenous communities and that this is probably ten times the estimated sustainable harvest.
I respect the rights of indigenous Australians to hunt dugongs and I respect the right of Norwegians and Japanese to hunt whales and trade the products of their slaughter. But the activity must be sustainable. It would seem that in this regard the Australian, and perhaps also the Japanese, governments could learn from the reasoned and scientific approach taken by the Norwegians.
The same four principles could be applied to the harvest of dugongs in Australian waters under a strict quota system. The issue of Aboriginal subsistence whaling needs to be acknowledged and discussed. Australian Aboriginals and Danish Farosese fisherman may kill the animal with a traditional weapon, but they do this from motorised boats. And perhaps it is time Australians started to acknowledge that our aversion to whaling is cultural, based on a new-found love of whales, and that we simply don’t want to apply reason or science here.
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