Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 November 2014
The extensive territorial waters of Australia and New Zealands (NZ) (over 8 million km2 for Australia and a further 4 million km2 for NZ) are home to approximately 49 species of whales and dolphins, 11 species of seals and the dugong. Within Australia, at least eight species are listed as threatened, though there is insufficient information on a further 25 to determine their conservation status, while in NZ eight species are listed as threatened. The relationship between humans and Australasia’s marine mammals is culturally diverse and has changed significantly in recent years. Dugongs and stranded whales have been important both spiritually and as a source of nutrition to some Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for thousands of years; seals and whales had a similar role for Maori in NZ. In recent history, exploitation of baleen whales, elephant seals and fur seals was an important driver for much of the earliest European settlement of Australasia. The success of the whaling and sealing industries came at the expense of marine mammal populations, leading to the near extirpation of many species by the mid twentieth century. In more recent decades there has been a fundamental shift in public attitudes towards marine mammals, in particular the great whales and dolphins. All marine mammals are protected within Australia and NZ waters. Traditional hunting of dugongs is legal in Australia for Native Title holders.