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Odontocetes - the toothed whales.
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Cetacean Conservation under the Convention on Migratory Species

Cetacean conservation is a crucial component of the work of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which aims to conserve and manage avian, aquatic and terrestrial migratory species, as well as their habitats, throughout their range.

As a global environmental treaty, CMS organises transboundary cooperation for species migrating across or outside national boundaries, such as cetaceans. It provides the legal framework for conservation measures throughout the migratory range and strives to maintain or restore a favourable conservation status of the species and their habitats in order to facilitate, where applicable, sustainable use. The Convention provides a platform to develop and tailor measures according to particular conservation needs. This is achieved through a variety of instruments.


A key instrument of the Convention is the listing of species on one or both of the two Appendices, which are updated at every meeting of the Conference of Parties. It is possible a) for a species to be listed on both Appendices of the Convention, b) for the species as a whole to be listed on one Appendix and a particular population to appear on the other or c) for just a particular population to be listed.

Appendix I contains migratory species that are endangered - that means in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range. Provided that there is reliable scientific evidence available that a species is endangered, a migratory species may be listed on Appendix I. Parties that are Range States for Appendix I species endeavour to conserve and restore habitats; to prevent, remove, compensate for or minimise, as appropriate, the adverse effects of activities or obstacles, which prevent or impede migration; and to prevent, reduce or control factors that endanger the species. Taking of specimens of Appendix I species is generally prohibited and Parties allowing exceptions must inform the Secretariat.

Following its amendment at the 9th Meeting of the Conference of Parties, held in Rome, Italy, in December 2008, Appendix I lists the following 15 cetacean species:

Toothed whales (Odontoceti):
· Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
· Ganges river dolphin / Susu (Platanista gangetica gangetica)
· Franciscana / La Plata dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei)
· Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) - only Mediterranean population
· Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus ponticus) - Black Sea population
· Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)
· Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii)

Baleen whales (Mysticeti):
· Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
· Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
· Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
· Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
· Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)
· Northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) - North Atlantic
· North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) - North Pacific
· Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis)

Appendix II contains species with an unfavourable conservation status that would significantly benefit from the international co-operation that could be achieved through an international agreement for their conservation and management. Parties that are Range States of Appendix II species are therefore encouraged to conclude agreements for the conservation and management of those species or geographically separate populations of those species.

Appendix II, as amended at the 9th Meeting of the Conference of Parties in December 2008, lists the following 43 cetacean species:

Toothed whales (Odontoceti):
· Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
· Ganges river dolphin / Susu (Platanista gangetica gangetica)
· Franciscana / La Plata dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei)
· Amazon river dolphin / Boto (Inia geoffrensis)
· Beluga / White whale (Delphinapterus leucas)
· Narwhal (Monodon monoceros)
· Harbour porpoise / Common porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) - North and Baltic Sea, western North Atlantic, Black Sea and North West African populations
· Burmeister's porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis)
· Spectacled porpoise (Phocoena dioptrica)
· Finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides)
· Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli)
· Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis)
· Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii)
· Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis)
· Guiana dolphin (Sotalia guianensis)
· White-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) - only North and Baltic Sea populations
· Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) - only North and Baltic Sea populations
· Dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)
· Peale's dolphin / Black-chinned dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis)
· Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) - only North Sea, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean populations
· Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) - Arafura / Timor Sea populations
· Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) - North Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean and Black Sea populations
· Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata) - eastern tropical Pacific and Southeast Asian populations
· Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) - eastern tropical Pacific and Southeast Asian populations
· Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) - eastern tropical Pacific and Mediterranean populations
· Clymene dolphin (Stenella clymene) - West African population
· Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) - North and Baltic Sea Mediterranean, Black Sea and eastern tropical Pacific populations
· Fraser's dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei) - Southeast Asian populations
· Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)
· Australian snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohni)
· Commerson's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) - South American population
· Chilean dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia)
· Heaviside's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus heavisidii)
· Killer whale / Orca (Orcinus orca)
· Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) - only North and Baltic Sea populations
· Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii)
· Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)

Baleen whales (Mysticeti):
· Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)
· Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni)
· Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
· Omura's whale (Balaenoptera omurai)
· Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
· Pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata)


At the 9th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) a number of Resolutions relevant for the protection of cetaceans were passed.

Resolution 9.1 (2008) identifies species for which the Parties to the Convention decided to carry out concerted and cooperative actions to improve their conservation status during the 2009-2011 triennium. The results of these efforts will be reviewed at the next meeting in 2011.
Concerted actions have been recommended for the Black Sea population of the Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus ponticus) and the Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica). These two species have thus been highlighted as requiring special attention.
Further, 13 cetacean species have been designated for cooperative actions, namely Peale's dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis), Dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus), Burmeister porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis), Spectacled porpoise (Phocoena dioptrica), Commerson's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii), Chilean dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia), Finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides), Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), Indian or Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris), Fraser's dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei) and Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris).

Resolution 9.2 (2008) supports the development of an appropriate CMS instrument on cetaceans in South-East Asia or the entire Indian Ocean. The Range States of the region have been requested to identify a lead country to support the instrument's preparatory phase and Parties, interested States and partner organizations are encouraged to provide financial and in-kind support to these efforts.

In Resolution 9.9 (2008), Parties express their concern that migratory marine species face multiple, cumulative and often synergistic threats with possible effects over vast areas, such as by-catch, over-fishing, pollution, habitat destruction or degradation, marine noise impacts, deliberate hunts as well as climate change. The COP consequently urges Parties, the Scientific Council and the CMS Secretariat to identify priority issues, species and habitats in the marine sphere requiring intervention by CMS in the next decade.
In follow-up of Resolution 8.22 (2005) on Adverse Human Induced Impacts on Cetaceans, the Secretariat was asked to complete a review of the extent to which CMS, CMS cetacean-related agreements and other organizations and bodies are addressing listed impacts through their threat abatement activities. This will be followed by an analysis of the gaps and overlaps between CMS, CMS cetacean-related agreements, IMO, IWC Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee, OSPAR, UNICPOLOS, the UNEP Regional Seas Programme and the identification of priority impacts and regions requiring urgent attention. Based on this, a draft programme of work for cetaceans will be developed and submitted to the CMS Parties.

The Conference of Parties further passed a number of resolutions addressing specific threats that also affect cetaceans, namely Resolution 9.7 (2008) on Climate Change Impacts on Migratory Species, Resolution 9.18 (2008) on By-Catch and Resolution 9.19 (2008) on Adverse Anthropogenic Marine/Ocean Noise Impacts on Cetaceans and other Biota.

Legally binding Agreements

Primarily for species listed on Appendix II, the Convention encourages the Range States to conclude global or regional Agreements. In this respect, CMS acts as a framework Convention. The development of models tailored according to the conservation needs throughout the migratory range is a unique capacity to CMS. Two legally binding treaties for cetaceans have been concluded to date, which have been adapted to the requirements of their particular regions.


The Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS) was concluded in 1996 and entered into force in 2001. It covers an area that includes the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coasts of northern Morocco, southern Portugal and southern Spain. The Agreement Area includes 28 Range States, of which 22 have so far become Party to the Agreement. ACCOBAMS applies to all cetaceans that have a range that lies entirely or partly within the Agreement Area or that accidentally or occasionally frequent it.

The ACCOBAMS Conservation Plan specifies the actions that Parties shall take in the following areas: adoption and enforcement of national legislation; assessment and management of human cetacean interactions; habitat protection; research and monitoring; capacity building; collection and dissemination of information; training and education; and responses to emergency situations.

Resolutions adopted by Parties at the 3rd Meeting of Parties in 2007 cover topics such as collaboration with the fisheries sector, guidelines for research on cetaceans, whale watching, release of cetaceans into the wild and stranding response, as well as topics such as anthropogenic noise, ship strikes, bycatch and other fishery interactions, dolphin interaction programmes, marine protected areas or conservation strategies and plans for individual species.

The ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee is comprised of persons qualified as experts in cetacean conservation science and serves as an advisory body to the Meeting of the Parties. It usually meets every year.


The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS) was concluded in 1991 and entered into force in 1994. Originally covering only the North and Baltic Seas, in 2008 an extension of the Agreement Area to include also parts of the North East Atlantic and the Irish Sea came into effect. The Agreement has 17 Range States and currently 10 Parties. ASCOBANS covers all species of toothed whales (Odontoceti) in the Agreement Area, with the exception of the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus).

The aim of the Agreement is to promote close cooperation amongst Parties with a view to achieving and maintaining a favourable conservation status for small cetaceans in the ASCOBANS Area. A Conservation and Management Plan, which forms part of the Agreement, obliges Parties to engage in habitat conservation and management, surveys and research, pollution mitigation and public information.

The 6th Meeting of the Parties in 2009 adopted two action plans for harbour porpoises, specific to the needs of the populations in the Baltic and North Sea, respectively. The Parties also agreed on the development of guidelines to address the adverse effects of underwater noise on marine mammals, for example caused by construction of offshore windfarms. The new work programme for the triennium 2010-2012 identifies bycatch and disturbance by noise as priorities for the work under the Agreement.

The ASCOBANS Advisory Committee, which meets at least once a year, provides scientific and policy advice to the Parties and the Secretariat on the conservation and management of small cetaceans and on other matters related to the running of the Agreement. The meetings are attended by representatives of the Parties, Non-Party Range States and relevant regional, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Memoranda of Understanding

Like their legally-binding counterparts, non-binding Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) developed under CMS provide the participating governments with a platform which allows them to coordinate conservation measures for species listed on the Convention's Appendices. Meetings of the Signatory States are dependent on voluntary contributions and therefore occur less regularly. The more informal framework facilitates the participation of developing countries. To date, two MoUs are concerned with cetaceans:

Pacific Island Cetaceans

The Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (link) came into effect in 2006. It was negotiated under the auspices of CMS in collaboration with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). Of its 22 Range States, 11 are at present Signatories to the MoU, which serves to protect all cetacean species occurring in its area. A number of collaborating organizations have also signed the MoU.

At the 2nd Meeting of Signatories in 2009 a Conservation Plan for the years 2009-2012 was adopted, which serves as an Annex to the MoU. It is designed to help the people of the Pacific Islands region to conserve whales and dolphins and their habitats by identifying necessary actions and priorities relating to cooperation, threat reduction, ecosystem and habitat protection, capacity building, education and awareness raising, cultural significance and value, legislation and policy, research and monitoring, as well as whale and dolphin-based tourism.

Western African Aquatic Mammals

The Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Conservation of the Manatee and Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia (link) was signed in 2008 by 17 of the 29 Range States. A number of collaborating organizations have also signed the MoU. It covers all species of small cetaceans (defined as all species of toothed whales (Odontoceti), with the exception of Physeter macrocephalus, the sperm whale) occurring in its area, encompassing the entire African Eastern Atlantic Basin from Morocco to South Africa and including the Macaronesian archipelago.

The Small Cetacean Action Plan, which is part of the MoU, contains eight thematic sections: cooperation, legislation and policy, ecosystem/habitat protection, threat reduction, research and monitoring, capacity building, education and awareness raising, as well as tourism based on small cetaceans.

The MoU also applies to the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), for which inland countries are included in its area and a separate action plan has been adopted.

References / Links




Prideaux, M. (2003): Conserving Cetaceans. The Convention on Migratory Species and its relevant Agreements for Cetacean Conservation (www.cms.ihttp://nt/publications/pdf/CMS_Conserving_Cetaceans_Fi.pdf)

Resolutions and Recommendations adopted at CMS COP9 (2008):

UNEP/CMS (2008): Convention on Migratory Species

UNEP/CMS/Conf. 9.26 (2008): Migratory Marine Species. Strategic considerations for 2009-11 and beyond

UNEP/CMS (2009): CMS Family Guide. The Encyclopaedia of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Third fully revised edition (

© Heidrun Frisch (2010): Cetacean Conservation under the Convention on Migratory Species. UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany.



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