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It’s critical: Protecting the most important whale and dolphin habitats around the world

Whales and dolphin rely on critical habitats – areas where they feed, mate, give birth, nurse young, socialize or migrate – for their survival. In countless areas around the globe, critical habitats are under threat from a variety of human activities;  including intense fishing, increased shipping, off-shore exploration of oil and gas and marine-based tourism. Additional pressures include coastal construction, climate change, and pollution from a variety of sources. Only a tiny fraction of critical whale and dolphin habitats is protected from these threats, and greater protection is urgently required to prevent vulnerable populations from decline.
Grey whale tail fluke at surface (Eschrichtius robustus) Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico

© McDonald / WWF

Why is this happening?
Governments and policy makers are often unaware of the importance of critical habitats under their care or are tempted to prioritize economic gain through industrial activity over the protection of marine and coastal habitats. In some cases, those with power and inclination to act are simply unaware of the tools that are available to protect habitats, and the benefits that habitat protection can have for commercial fisheries as well as cetaceans.
What is WWF doing?
  • The WWF Antarctica programme team played a vital role in the creation of the Ross Sea Sanctuary in the Southern Ocean, and has produced an informative report on the Whales of the Antarctic Peninsula .
  • WWF Gabon contributed cetacean distribution data from marine coastal surveys to be used in the designation of over 20% of Gabon's EEZ as marine protected area.
  • In 2017 WWF Sweden contributed to the establishment of four Baltic Sea MPAs covering an area of in total 1,3 million Ha, created primarily to protect the endangered Baltic harbour porpoise . WWF Sweden also supports research on underwater noise from shipping and its potential effects on Baltic harbour porpoise distribution.  
  • WWF Chile has been working with partners to support the protection of  over 915,000 km2 of marine habitat in Chilean Patagonia - critical habitat for blue whales, Chilean dolphins, southern right whales, and other cetacean species.
harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)Sognefjord, Norway

© Florian Graner WWF

What more can WWF do under the new deal for whales and dolphins?
We want to enable and inspire governments and policy makers around the globe to protect areas critical to the life cycles and survival of whale and dolphin populations.
With your support, we will work globally to implement three main strategies to promote and enable the protection of critical cetacean habitat:
1. Sharing lessons through partnerships and collaboration: Multiple WWF projects around the globe have worked to protect critical cetacean habitat, providing opportunities to share experience and expertise with each other and make important contributions global habitat protection efforts, such as the IUCN-led assessments of Important Marine Mammal Areas.
2. Providing evidence and tools for habitat protection: WWF will compile a compendium of case studies featuring successful WWF-led or partnered cetacean habitat protection initiatives, as well as a database of tools and different regulatory measures that can be used to effectively protect and manage cetacean habitats. This will include tools for sustainable financing, monitoring and enforcement, to prevent the phenomenon of ineffective ‘paper parks’.
3. Engaging and advocating on local and global level: As a global NGO with a proven track record of effective advocacy and public engagement, WWF can play a leading role in advocating for habitat protection and inspiring policy makers at local, national and inter-governmental levels to prioritize habitat protection above, or alongside industrial or commercial activities.
Hector's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) small pod in turbid coastal waters near river mouth, Kaikoura Penninsula, South Island, New Zealand.

© National Geographic Stock/Tui de Roy/Minden Pictures / WWF