Based on economics, science and ethics, Australia’s support for whale conservation is well known, ensuring that the global debate about the future of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) are informed by the latest information. The progress report Conservation and Values Global Cetacean Snapshot was released on 14 June 2008 before the 60th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission.
The Global Cetacean Summary Report follows on by presenting the most current information on the conservation status of the world’s cetaceans and includes new information from the 2008 meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Cetaceans have traditionally been classified within the Order Cetacea. However, the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species now classifies cetaceans within the Order Cetartiodactyla.
Summarizing existing scientific knowledge on the global conservation status of cetaceans and the threats to their survival, and reviewing the economic value of cetaceans and their non-consumptive use through whale watching activities.
There are at least 86 cetacean species recognized by the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee. The summary report reveals that although some species have been closely studied, relatively little is known about the biology, ecology and status of many cetacean species and populations. Demonstrating the need for the continued and increasing international research effort to address key knowledge gaps, and for developing comprehensive conservation management strategies, particularly to alleviate the growing pressures on threatened species and populations.
A few species, and populations, have started to recover from the effects of commercial whaling. However, highlighting that some cetaceans, especially river and coastal dolphins and porpoises, face increasing human induced threats including incidental mortality from fisheries, habitat degradation and climate change.
While there is simply not enough information to determine the conservation status of over half of the 86 cetacean species, five species are listed as Near Threatened and fourteen species as Threatened :
2 Critically Endangered species: the Baiji (Yangtze River dolphin) and the Vaquita (Gulf of California porpoise).
7 Endangered species: the North Atlantic right whale, North Pacific right whale; Sei whale, fin whale, blue whale, South Asian river dolphin and Hector’s dolphin.
5 Vulnerable species: Sperm whale, Franciscan, a finless porpoise, Irrawaddy dolphin, and the Atlantic humpback dolphin.
Following on from the initial Global Cetacean Snapshot which was produced in June 2008 the cetacean species listed as Critically Endangered and Endangered have remained the same. Within the Vulnerable species the conservation status for four species; the humpback whale, Boto (Amazon River dolphin), beluga and harbor porpoise has improved whilst the sperm whale has remained the same.
As the status of one or more species improves the status of other cetaceans can decline. Sadly, this has occurred with another four species; the Franciscan, a finless porpoise, Irrawaddy dolphin, and the Atlantic humpback dolphin now being listed as Vulnerable.
The ongoing challenges associated with the conservation of cetaceans and the need for adaptive management measures, some subspecies and populations may have a different status to the overall species level.
Cetaceans are increasingly threatened by human activities including:
Hunting and whaling
Fisheries interactions including mortality from accidental capture or entanglement (by-catch) and deliberate culling
Habitat degradation or loss from coastal and river development and associated pollution
Noise disturbance and vessel strike
Depletion of food resources through competition with fisheries
Climate change impacts.
These threats, if allowed to continue unabated, are likely to overwhelm some