Toggle Nav

Disappearing dolphins clamor for attention at whale summit

Small whales are disappearing from the world’s oceans and waterways as they fall victim to fishing gear, pollution, and habitat loss – compounded by a lack of conservation measures such as those developed for great whales.

A new WWF report: Small cetaceans: The Forgotten Whales, states that inadequate conservation measures are pushing small cetaceans – such as dolphins, porpoises and small whales – toward extinction as their survival is overshadowed by efforts to save their larger cousins.

Unequal protection
Great whales have more protection in international conservation efforts. Almost all great whale species have the strongest level of protection offered by CITES – a conservation convention which regulates international trade in protected wildlife species – compared to just 17 percent of dolphin and porpoises species.  In addition, the Convention on Migratory Species protects 87 percent of great whale species, but less than half of smaller whale species.

While great whales are now better protected by the international commercial whaling moratorium, in effect since 1986, small cetacean hunts continue around the globe, largely unmanaged and unchecked by the international community. For example, the hunt of 16,000 Dall’s porpoises every year in Japan is considered unsustainable. Yet several of the pro-whaling nations taking part in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting from June 22-26, 2009, object to discussing small cetacean conservation.

WWF and the IWC

Several nations first met throughout the 1930s to attempt to reign in the whaling industry as it became clear that many species of whales were being hunted close to extinction because of large-scale uncontrolled commercial whaling. In 1948 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established. Today, the IWC has 85 member states.

The IWC meets annually and adopts regulations on catch limits, whaling methods and protected areas. In recent years the IWC has moved towards a broader conservation agenda for whales which includes bycatch and concerns about climate change.

WWF has been active in the IWC since 1961, almost immediately after WWF was founded. WWF is urging countries participating in the IWC to end an impasse that has prevented the governing body from exerting any oversight over Japan, Norway, and Iceland, which continue to whale outside the purview of IWC.

Data deficient
A significant disadvantage smaller whale species face compared to great whales is a crippling lack of data on their numbers and habits. Forty of the 69 small cetacean species, or 58 percent, are classified by IUCN as ‘data deficient’, meaning that there is not enough information available to even determine whether they are threatened or not.

Only four out of 15 Species, or 27 percent, of great whales are listed as data deficient, even though many of the reasons why smaller whale species are difficult to study also apply to the great whales.

According to the IUCN Red List, population trends – whether the species is increasing or decreasing in number – are unknown for 60 of the 69 small cetacean species.  The nine remaining species are in decline. 

Take Action to Protect our Oceans and Marine Resources
Urge the president and the Senate to work to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention.

Learn more about Dolphins and whales (cetaceans)

Discover WWF’s marine work