Good morning to you all;
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Maldives. I understand we have many very renowned researchers in the field of cetacean research and we are honoured that you are here this morning.
Thank you for giving me this poster I have always wondered why we don’t have such posters displayed in our schools, Because your children don’t really know the richness of marine life in the Maldives. We don’t get a true perspective of where we are in relation to the rest of the environment that we live in. So, I think that it is really important you came out with these posters for this occasion. I hope you will provide these posters to all the schools in the country. I will insist on them being displayed.
This year, 2009, is an important anniversary for whale conservation. Many years ago 1929 the idea of sanctuary for whales was first proposed by the Argentinean lawyer José Suarez working under the auspicious of the League of Nations. 60 years ago 1949 José Suarez’s dream was realized in the declaration of sanctuary by the then newly formed international whaling commission. These centauries were large sections of southern oceans from which all whaling’s were banned. In the post-war year when food was scares commercial interest were paramount. The sanctuary did not last long but it threatened important business.
30 years ago in 1979 IWC formed Indian Ocean sanctuary. So 2009 is the 30th anniversary of the Indian Ocean Sanctuary. We are here today to celebrate this important milestone.
I am especially happy to welcome two legendary figures in cetacean research and conservation for both instrumental in bringing the Indian Ocean Sanctuary many years ago: Dr Sidney Holt and Dr Roger Payne. Thank you for being here with us. I am looking forward to your key note speeches later in the morning.
The Indian Ocean sanctuary was setup IWC so that large whales should get protection from commercial whaling. That end has been largely achieved although much remains to be done to safeguard populations of smaller whales and dolphins. But another hope for Indian Ocean sanctuary was that it would provide stimulus and the location for the expansion of benign whale research: research that did not require killing the whales. Benign cetacean research has indeed flourished with in the Indian Ocean Sanctuary in recent years which is one of the main aims of symposium to highlight the extant and the quality of the mission.
Here in the Maldives, we are at the very heart of the Indian Ocean sanctuary. Although we are not an IWC member, we whole heartedly support the IOS, its aims and continuation.
The Maldives has never been a whaling nation. But there are many whales here and others have come to exploit them. The relationship of Maldivians with whales is to some extant captured in our epic bonds and little of it was actually studied today.
In the 19th century American whalers flocked in this region in search of sperm whales. Cochin and Colombo were regular ports of call for American whalers, and so too was Seychelles and the Maldives. Indeed Herman Melville, the celebrated author of Morby Dick wrote the poem “The Maldives shark” in 1888.
Sharks were of cause the bane of the whale-men, snatching bites from their catches before they could be cut up and taken on-board. Even today some species of sharks are still known as whales.
Then a century later in 1960’s the mammoth industrial ships of Soviet Union visited our waters, leaving with carcasses of hundreds of whales. These catches were illegal under the rules of IWC and were not reported until after the fall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Many older people in the atolls remember a time, in their youth, when the blows of whales were a frequent sight. They tell us that such sightings of whales became increasingly scares in the 1960’s. We now know why.
Previous speakers mentioned the value of whales and dolphins for both tourism and fisheries. I have alluded to their direct value for past to commercial whalers. On this increasingly over crowded planet there is an inevitable tendency to think of everything in terms of dollars and cents. While there is the need for such a pragmatic approach, we must also remember that whales and dolphins out value in there own right. They belong to this planet as much as we do.
And that brings me to another significant anniversary. In just two days from now it will be the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Let us not forget that it was the pictures of the Earth from space, most of them taken during the Apollo program, which quite literally gave us all a new perspective of our own planet. We take those images for granted now, but when they were first published, they showed for the first time just what an ocean-dominated planet we lived on. Ours truly is a Blue Planet. Those images also showed us how small and vulnerable our world appears in the vastness of space.
The Indian Ocean Sanctuary is wonderful institution, set up 30 years ago to protect the richness of the Earth’s marine life.
I applaud your efforts in carrying out valuable research into the whales and dolphins of the Indian Ocean, in highlighting the threats that they face. And in helping to ensure that they, and other marine wildlife, are protected into the future.
I wish you successful deliberations and I hope that this symposium will contribute for the advancement of research in this area.