IWC Acts on Ocean Noise and Whale Bycatch
On the third day of the 67th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Florianópolis, Brazil, the Commission adopted a resolution focused on mitigating the threat of anthropogenic noise, such as that from seismic surveys, shipping and construction, on cetaceans. The resolution recognizes that noise can cause significant stress to cetaceans, and the IWC has agreed to work with other international bodies to try and address the threats.
The delegates also endorsed the IWC's new bycatch initiative by allocating further funding. Commenced in 2016, four inter-related areas of work have been identified:
• improved assessment of bycatch to determine priorities and to measure success
• innovation and testing of mitigation and management methods (no single solution exists to prevent cetacean bycatch)
• transfer of expertise, technology and management measures between countries and fishing communities
• engagement with other relevant international organizations focused on fisheries management and bycatch.
Rebecca Regnery, Senior Director of Wildlife at Humane Society International, says, "The IWC's Bycatch Mitigation Initiative is of special importance to whale conservation and health. Each year around the world, hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises are accidentally caught and drowned in fishing nets, causing immense suffering and threatening several species with extinction. The IWC is forging a pathway for countries and international partners to find solutions to this global problem."
Additionally, while the Commission has traditionally looked at whales as resources to be utilised, science now reveals a different and important role for whales as ecosystem engineers – moving deep sea nutrients into the sunlight where their fecal plumes fertilize the waters there and help ecosystem productivity. Today, in a significant change of emphasis, the IWC agreed to focus more on this topic.
Alexia Wellbelove, Senior Program Manager at Humane Society International in Australia, says that the resolutions demonstrate that the IWC is not disfunctional, as pro-whaling nations have claimed, and that it is engaging widely and positively with industry and academia on cetacean conservation, not just focusing on whaling.
Later this week the IWC will vote on a raft of proposals by Japan aimed at smoothing a path for the resumption of commercial whaling.