Australia has become a world leader in the protection and conservation of whales since the end of Australia's whaling industry in 1978. Australian waters are home to approximately 45 species of whales and dolphins. The protection of these species at regional, national and international levels is a priority for the Australian Government. Despite being protected in Australian waters, whales and dolphins are still threatened by human activities.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are often collectively referred to as Cetaceans (from their scientific name, Order Cetacea).
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) all cetaceans are protected in Australian waters:
- the Australian Whale Sanctuary includes all Commonwealth waters from the three nautical mile state waters limit out to the boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e. out to 200 nautical miles and further in some places)
- within the Sanctuary it is an offence to kill, injure or interfere with a cetacean. Severe penalties apply to anyone convicted of such offences
- all states and territories also protect whales and dolphins within their waters
Five whale species are currently listed under the EPBC Act as nationally threatened:
- blue whale (endangered)
- southern right whale (endangered)
- sei whale (vulnerable)
- fin whale (vulnerable)
- humpback whale (vulnerable)
The recovery plans identify whaling and habitat degradation as key threats to whales, and establish objectives and actions to ensure the ongoing recovery of the species. The recovery plans for these five species were reviewed in 2010.