Whale tail fluke, New Zealand

Human threats to whales and dolphins on IWC’s agenda

Thirty years after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) implemented the moratorium on commercial whaling – an agreement that ultimately saved many great whale populations from certain extinction – cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) worldwide are facing grave and growing threats from a range of human activities.

The 66th Biennial Meeting of the Commission (IWC66) opens in Slovenia next week and expert Oceans campaigners from the Environmental Investigation Agency will be at the meeting, advocating a precautionary approach to cetacean conservation

Key issues on the agenda include:

  • small type coastal whaling and special permit whaling in Japan;
  • the critically endangered vaquita;
  • Iceland’s commercial whaling;
  • human-caused environmental threats to cetaceans;
  • proposal for a South Atlantic whale sanctuary.

EIA has prepared a new report, Plight of the Ocean Sentinels, on human activities threatening cetaceans:

Since the moratorium on commercial whaling was agreed, the intensification of human activities has wrought unprecedented changes on the marine environment upon which cetaceans depend and their survival is now threatened by the impacts of these activities, including:

  • bycatch kills hundreds of thousands of cetaceans annually;
  • specific chemical pollutants are associated with immunosuppression and reproductive impairment and are identified as key drivers of population declines in some European small cetacean species;
  • cetaceans are exposed to high levels of marine debris, including microplastic pollution, with direct and indirect impacts;
  • noise pollution has escalated over the past 50 years and poses both a chronic and acute threat;
  • ocean changes due to climate change will likely pose one of the greatest threats to cetacean populations, through ocean acidification, melting of ice sheets, changes in ocean temperature, disruption of food chains and changes in the supply and cycling of nutrients.

Plight of the Ocean Sentinels explores some of the major environmental threats facing cetacean populations and offers recommendations to IWC Contracting Governments on future steps to expand the IWC’s efforts to conserve the world’s cetacean populations.

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