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The 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) took place July 2-6 in Panama City, Panama.

Hector's Dolphin cruises off the coast of Akaroa. Hector's Dolphins prefer shallow water and are ... rel= © WWF-New Zealand / Bob Zuur

WWF’s goal is to ensure that viable populations of all cetacean species occupy their historic range, and fulfill their role in maintaining the integrity of ocean ecosystems.

WWF acknowledges the widely varied cultural attitudes toward the conservation and management of whales, but continues to oppose commercial whaling - now and until whale stocks have fully recovered, and the governments of the world have brought whaling fully under international control with a precautionary and conservation-based enforceable management and compliance system adhered to by all whaling nations.


The marine environment has never before been under such heavy cumulative pressures. Bycatch, ocean noise, chemical pollution, habitat destruction, unsustainable fishing, oil and gas exploration and development, shipping, aquaculture, marine debris and climate change are all taking their toll on cetaceans and their habitats, and in turn, are threatening the local communities which depend on coastal environments for their livelihoods and survival.

IWC has a role in tackling these growing pressures to cetaceans and their habitats. This will be a challenge, but also presents an opportunity for the IWC to become a world leading body in marine conservation.  

Small and endangered 

The vaquita is the world’s most critically endangered marine cetacean species. It is only found in a small area of the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico. Despite government efforts vaquita population is still declining and now likely consists of fewer than 200 individuals. The goverment established a Vaquita Refuge to protect the animals from gillnet bycatch, but illegal fishing is still happening. Additionally, the refuge does not cover the whole vaquita habitat. WWF is calling on the Mexican government to enforce a complete ban on gillnet use within the entire vaquita habitat.

Maui’s dolphins, a subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, are only found on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The are critically endangered with only around 55 animals over the age of 1 year left. The Maui's population has declined since the 1970s largely because of animals becoming caught in fishing gillnets and trawl fisheries. WWF is calling on New Zealand to ban the use of all nets inside Maui’s dolphin habitat and to guarantee compliance of all vessels.

New Arctic challenges 

Arctic cetaceans face a raft of threats, arguably the greatest being those resulting from climate change, expanding oil and gas exploration and operations, and increased shipping. WWF has a large Global Arctic Programme, and is currently active in most Arctic countries.

IWC is planning an important Arctic workshops to identify critical cetacean habitats in the Arctic and to agreement on conservation recommendations for those areas. Given the increased threat posed by shipping and oil and gas exploration and development to Arctic cetaceans, WWF encourages the workshop to identify management measures required to limit the impact of these industrial activities on Arctic cetaceans.

The undersea noise generated by oil and gas exploration and development, particularly during exploration phases (e.g. seismic testing) is known to have a severe impact on whales, which rely on sound as their primary sense.
Beluga whales trapped at ice hole (Delphinapterus leucas) too far away to reach open sea, Canadian High Arctic

© WWF / Sue Flood,

Western gray whales at risk

The IWC has repeatedly addressed and made recommendations on the conservation of the critically endangered western North Pacific gray whale both in terms of bycatch and oil and gas development near its feeding grounds off Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East. Possibly fewer than 130 western gray whales remain.

WWF is extremely concerned about upcoming oil projects and their impact on western gray whales, in particular two new proposed platforms, one adjacent to the whales' near-shore feeding area, one adjacent to the offshore feeding area. We are calling on the Russian government to prevent construction of these platforms. 
Western gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) feeds near oil platform off Russia's Sakhalin Island. 
© Vladimir Potansky / WWF-Russia
Western gray whale feeds near oil platform off Sakhalin Island.
© Vladimir Potansky / WWF-Russia


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