Future for endangered whales lies with IWC



Posted on 02 July 2012  | 
More than 200,000 Antarctic blue whales used to live in the Southern Ocean – but 20th Century whaling decimated this population and latest estimates put this population at just around 2,300 animals.
More than 200,000 Antarctic blue whales used to live in the Southern Ocean – but 20th Century whaling decimated this population and latest estimates put this population at just around 2,300 animals.
© naturepl.com/Mark Brownlow/WWFEnlarge
Panama City – The 64th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) opens today in Panama. The conference comes at a time intense pressure on whales, dolphins and porpoises from human activities. Governments are set to discuss severe marine threats such as oil and gas exploration and fisheries bycatch, which are driving some cetacean populations to near extinction, as well as stronger measures to protect cetaceans, such as sanctuary establishment.

“IWC member governments have already begun to strengthen the convention’s conservation agenda and we are urging them to keep conservation front and centre at this week’s meeting,” said Wendy Elliott, head of WWF’s delegation. “The most severe threats to whales today are the result of industrial activities like off-shore drilling and commercial fishing that must be better managed. IWC countries have the opportunity this week to show leadership and protect cetaceans in their national waters and on the high seas.”

Oil and gas expansion

WWF has learned that oil giant Shell plans to begin drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska as early as this month, which could mark the beginning of a massive oil exploration effort throughout US Arctic waters. The harsh Arctic environment with its rough seas, violent storms, icy waters and long periods of darkness renders current spill response procedures woefully inadequate. Technology simply does not exist to clean up an oil spill in these conditions.

Similarly, in the Russian Far East, oil companies are planning to build new off-shore drilling platforms near the feeding area of critically endangered western gray whales. There are only an estimated 26 breeding females remaining and the oil-rich zone off Sakhalin Island is the only place where they can teach their calves to feed.

The noise generated by oil and gas exploration results in some of the loudest sounds that can be produced underwater by man. The explosive pulses generated by seismic testing airguns can disrupt whales’ behaviour and even cause their death.

Saving the smallest

WWF is extremely concerned about the survival of Maui’s dolphins in New Zealand and Mexico’s vaquita porpoises, two critically endangered cetaceans at risk of extinction due to entanglements in fishing gear. Fisheries bycatch is estimated to kill 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises each year. There are fewer than 200 vaquitas left and only 55 Maui’s dolphins over one year old. To save them, WWF is calling for an immediate ban on the use of gillnets in their entire habitats.

Iceland’s fin whale hunt

WWF remains deeply concerned that Iceland could resume commercial hunting of fin whales, an endangered species. WWF urges the government of Iceland to adhere to the internationally agreed moratorium on commercial whaling and publically commit to stopping its fin whale hunt for good.

Whale sanctuaries

A proposal to establish a whale sanctuary in South Atlantic waters between Africa and South America is set for debate at this week’s meeting. WWF urges parties to support a sanctuary in this region where whale-watching has been steadily increasing, providing ecotourism income, benefits for local communities, and research opportunities.

Follow us on Twitter @WWF or @Wendy__Elliott for live updates from the IWC meeting
More than 200,000 Antarctic blue whales used to live in the Southern Ocean – but 20th Century whaling decimated this population and latest estimates put this population at just around 2,300 animals.
More than 200,000 Antarctic blue whales used to live in the Southern Ocean – but 20th Century whaling decimated this population and latest estimates put this population at just around 2,300 animals.
© naturepl.com/Mark Brownlow/WWF Enlarge
Oil riggs. Offshore oil & gas development, one of many threats to marine development. Texas, Gulf of Mexico, USA
© Michael Sutton / WWF-Canon Enlarge
A Maui's dolphin leaps from the water along the western coastline of New Zealand's North Island.
A Maui's dolphin leaps from the water along the western coastline of New Zealand's North Island.
© WWF-New Zealand Enlarge

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