The 63rd meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will take place on 11-14 July 2011 in Jersey, UK.
The meeting is a significant opportunity for governments to bring the IWC up to date with modern standards, by improving its transparency and strengthening its conservation agenda.
Conservation action needed urges WWF
Throughout the week, governments will be urged by international conservation organisations, including WWF, to take urgent steps to address the severe threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises.
A legacy of unsustainable commercial whaling during the last two centuries has left populations of many whale species greatly reduced, with the survival of some species in an extremely precarious position.
However, whilst commercial whaling and unsustainable fishing remain a concern, it is the ever-expanding array of other threats to the marine environment which may ultimately have the greatest impact on the survival of many of the world’s whales.
These threats include increasing shipping, offshore oil and gas exploration and development, entanglement in fishing gear, bycatch, habitat destruction and climate change.
Excessive noise is also a growing problem in the world’s oceans, affecting the ability of whales to conduct basic behaviours including communication, finding food and mates, and predator avoidance.
Whales in crisis
The IWC has already made considerable progress on cetacean conservation, but more needs to be done to secure the survival of all species.
“In the 21st century, the whales of the world’s oceans are in crisis. Oil and gas operations, shipping, and irresponsible fishing are decimating several whale and dolphin species,” said Wendy Elliott, WWF’s Head of Delegation for the IWC meeting.
Two species in particular have attracted the attention of WWF.
Western North Pacific grey whales are considered to be Critically Endangered (CR), with less than 130 individuals thought to remain. Despite this, offshore oil and gas projects, including the controversial Sakhalin Energy proposal for a new oil platform, are directly threatening this species’ most important feeding grounds off Sakhalin Island.
The world’s smallest cetacean, the vaquita, is also Critically Endangered. Entanglement in gillnets prevents this species from coming to the surface to breath and is the primary threat to its survival. It has decimated the population to such an extent that only 245 individuals now remain.
“The IWC must become more effective in dealing with vast number of threats to whales in our oceans and seas. This will be a challenge, but is also an opportunity for the IWC to become a modern and effective body” said Elliot.
What is the IWC?
The IWC was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946, to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and to regulate the whaling industry.
Among the main duties of the IWC are the requirements to provide complete protection of certain species, designate whale sanctuaries and set limits on the numbers and size of whales which may be taken.
On the agenda
In addition to considering proposals on how best to reform the IWC, the 63rd meeting of the IWC also provides an occasion for member countries to share conservation methods that can reduce the numerous threats facing whales, as well as addressing important conservation issues such as noise pollution in our oceans.
Find out more about the International Whaling Commission.
Find out more about cetaceans on ARKive.
Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author