WHALE watching tour operators fear up-close experiences with humpbacks and the occasional minke and southern right whale could be lost if commercial whaling resumes.

Like most dedicated to the protection of the giants of the deep, Lyn Bronley of Coffs Harbour’s Whale Watching Experiences is nervously waiting on the outcome of this week’s International Whaling Commission in Morocco.

“Every time the Japanese whale fleets are given free reign to hunt whales in Antarctica we notice a distinct difference in the behaviour of the whale pods migrating along the East Coast,” Mrs Bronley said.

“In the years that they were hunted, whales often appeared to be more wary of vessels, even on our coastline.

“Only recently since whaling has stopped have they appeared more inquisitive and trustworthy of whale-watching vessels.”

The 88 member nations of the IWC are set to vote on lifting the quarter-century whaling moratorium, and there are widespread fears the Japanese government holds major influence.

Countries including Australia hold the deep concern that the controversial role the USA and New Zealand are playing as chief brokers could see an end to the global ban on whaling – granting Iceland, Japan and Norway commercial whale quotas.

“The global ban on whaling was too hard won to be given up softly,” Darren Kindleysides, director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said.

“It has saved tens of thousands of whales from the harpoons and laid the foundation for whale populations to begin the slow climb back from the brink of extinction.

“However, the proposal on the table offers little for whale conservation, while conceding much to the whaling nations. Some countries appear convinced it is in the best interests of whale conservation to do a deal that issues commercial whaling quotas for the first time in 24 years.”

It’s hoped if the whaling commission can’t defend the whales, the Australian Government can step in and turn to the international courts to stop the whalers once and for all.

Since the 1950s, whale watching has become the world’s fastest growing marine tour activity, generating $1.8 billion globally.

This Sunday, the health of whale numbers will be gauged by the public throughout NSW.

The annual Whale Census Day will be held to count migrating pods off the East Coast.

Anyone interested in taking part is urged to head to their nearest headland, conduct a survey and pass on their results to the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia.

“Last year we recorded the largest number of sightings ever, with the benefit of favourable ocean currents and weather conditions,” ORRCA president Ronny Ling said.

“With the help of more volunteers in 2010, we are hoping to beat that record.”

To register and report your sightings, call the ORRCA on 9415 3333 or visit www.orrca.org.au.

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