Many people have contacted the CMS Secretariat regarding the dolphin hunts in Taiji and the Faroe Islands. As we cannot respond to every single person, we have prepared this fact sheet to contribute to a better understanding of the role of CMS and the CMS Secretariat in cetacean conservation, and the issues which are beyond its control.  

As a global environmental treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) organizes transboundary cooperation for species migrating across or outside national boundaries, such as cetaceans. It provides the legal framework for conservation measures throughout the migration 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. CMS is an intergovernmental organization, and therefore the Secretariat only does what the country members (Parties) direct it to do.


CMS works through a variety of instruments. Appendix I currently contains 16 cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Appendix II has 43 cetacean species listed. Question 2 explains the role of the Appendices.

The key way for Parties to agree on conservation actions is by adopting resolutions. Great progress has been made in recent years, with two ground-breaking decisions made that may change the way the world community looks at cetaceans:

Many other resolutions focus on the great variety of threats that cetaceans and other marine life face. In recent years, these have included:

Under the umbrella of CMS a number of regional agreements have also been concluded, tailored to the specific situation in that part of the world. Two of the legally binding instruments concern cetaceans: ACCOBAMS, which focuses on the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and ASCOBANS, which addresses conservation measures in the north and west of Europe. Two others are so-called Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), non-binding expressions of commitment by the countries Signatory to them to work together for more effective conservation of the species covered. Of these, one is applicable to all cetaceans in the Pacific Islands Region, and one covers small cetaceans in western Africa.


Japan is not a Party to the Convention (see also question 5), and the listings on the Appendices do not cover the populations or territories affected by the Taiji hunt (see also question 3). Therefore, the Convention cannot take any specific actions.

All Convention bodies, including the Secretariat, are bound by the mandates of the Convention. These are defined in the treaty text (the legal agreement – comparable to a contract – concluded by governments) and Resolutions passed by the Conference of the Parties (the decision-making organ of the Convention). The treaty text defines the obligations of Parties (countries that have joined the Convention, e.g. by ratification of the treaty in their parliaments), which are to support research relating to migratory species, endeavour to provide immediate protection for migratory species included in Appendix I, and endeavour to conclude agreements covering the conservation and management of migratory species included in Appendix II. This means that the Convention only requires conservation actions for species listed on the Appendices. While Appendix I requires full protection of the species by Parties that are range states for listed species, Appendix II allows the possibility of sustainable use.

Responsibility for implementing the Convention lies with the Parties. As the Secretariat, we do what is within our possibilities to assist them. We also try to engage non-Party States and encourage them to join the Convention and its specialized instruments.

The Secretariat does not have the right to undertake campaigns independent of the mandates given by the Parties. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been established to address both the conservation and welfare aspects raised by such hunts. As they are independent of governmental mandates, they can take up matters than UN agencies cannot.


In order for the Convention to apply, a species and/or population must be listed on the Appendices (see question 2). In the case of a geographically limited listing, other populations or animals outside the defined boundaries are not covered.


According to Ceta-Base, which uses data from official reports released by the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries (NRIFSF) of the Fisheries Research Agency of Japan (FRA) and the Fisheries Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Government of Japan, the species targeted in Taiji are:

  • Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops spp.)
    Only the Black Sea subspecies, Tursiops truncatus ponticus, is listed on Appendix I of the Convention.
    Appendix II lists Tursiops aduncus for the Arafura/Timor Sea populations, and Tursiops truncatus for the North Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean and Black Sea populations. None of these areas are close to Japan.
  • Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)
    Only the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean populations are listed on Appendix II of the Convention, all far from Japan.
  • False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
    Not listed on the Convention’s Appendices.
  • Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens)
    Not listed on the Convention’s Appendices.
  • Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
    Not listed on the Convention’s Appendices.
  • Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)
    Only the eastern tropical Pacific population and Southeast Asian populations are covered by Appendix II. Japan is outside both of these regions.
  • Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
    Only the eastern tropical Pacific and the Mediterranean population are covered by Appendix II. Japan is outside both of these regions.


According to the information provided by the government of the Faroe Islands on, the species hunted there are:

  • Pilot whale (Globicephala melas)
    Only the North and Baltic Sea populations are listed on Appendix II of the Convention. The Faroe Islands lie outside the agreed boundaries for the North Sea.
  • Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
    Only the North and Baltic Sea populations are listed on Appendix II of the Convention. The Faroe Islands are outside of the agreed boundaries for the North Sea.
  • Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
    Only the North Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean and Black Sea populations are listed on Appendix II of the Convention. The Faroe Islands lie outside the agreed boundaries for the North Sea.
  • Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)
    Only the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean populations are listed on Appendix II of the Convention. The Faroe Islands lie outside the agreed boundaries for the North Sea.
  • Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)
    The species is listed on Appendix II without any regional restriction.


Listings on the Appendices are decided by the Conference of the Parties, and a listing on Appendix II does not exclude sustainable use of a species (see question 2).

ASCOBANS, a regional treaty for the conservation of small cetaceans, including pilot whales, covers a wider area, but not the Faroese territory. Independent of CMS Appendix listings, all small cetacean species are to be fully protected by ASCOBANS Parties within the ASCOBANS Area. While the Faroese territory lies outside the ASCOBANS Area, there is evidence from tagging data that the pilot whales passing by the Faroes are wide-ranging and also enter the waters covered by the Agreement (see ASCOBANS AC19/Doc.5-01 and for further details).

At the request of the ASCOBANS Advisory Committee, the Secretariat has for a number of years now corresponded with the Faroese authorities in order to obtain more information on the hunt and the way it is managed, and to state the Parties’ concern.


Japan is not a Party to CMS. The Faroe Islands have, since 1989, been included in the membership of Denmark.

For a list of countries participating in the Convention and the agreements concluded under it, as well as a link to all past and current reservations, please refer to this page.


Membership to the Convention is voluntary, and by no means universal. For a list of countries participating in the Convention and the agreements concluded under it, please refer to this page. Non-Parties to the Convention are not bound by any decisions taken by the Conference of the Parties, including its Appendix listings (see also question 2).

In a number of cases, non-Party States have joined efforts to conserve certain species by becoming Party to a regional Agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concluded under the auspices of CMS. This also is voluntary. No Agreement or MOU relevant for cetaceans covers the region around Japan. ASCOBANS, a regional treaty for the conservation of small cetaceans in the north and west of Europe, does not cover the Faroese territory.

CMS Parties undertaking efforts for the conservation of a species or population shared with a non-Party may of course engage their neighbouring states bilaterally in discussions on practices of concern. In the case of the Faroe Islands, a number of Parties to ASCOBANS are doing this. At the moment CMS has few members in East Asia, however, and the CMS Secretariat is not aware of evidence that the hunts in Taiji affect populations shared with a CMS Party.

The CMS Secretariat also makes efforts to engage with non-Parties, specifically to highlight concerns regarding migratory species conservation or to encourage cross-border collaboration between Parties and non-Parties. An example was an action taken during the campaign Year of the Dolphin 2007/2008, when the campaign partners wrote to the President of the Dominican Republic advising his government not to grant an import permit for dolphins caught in Taiji. This advice was heeded.


The treaty text is completely silent on the question of appropriate or inappropriate ways to take (defined as “taking, hunting, fishing, capturing, harassing, deliberate killing, or attempting to engage in any such conduct”) species listed on the Appendices (see also question 2). There are also no resolutions touching on the matter.

Unless and until Parties to the Convention express an opinion on hunting methods by way of a joint position (e.g. a resolution), no statements about this can be made in the name of the Convention.

Generally, the Convention deals with conservation of species, populations and their habitats, not individuals or small groups, with the aim of making the conservation status “favourable” (as defined in the treaty text). This means the species’ long-term survival as a viable component of their ecosystems would be ensured, their range would not be reduced, there would be sufficient suitable habitat, and distribution and abundance would approach historic coverage and levels to the extent that potentially suitable ecosystems exist and to the extent consistent with wise wildlife management.

Two Resolutions passed so far contain a recognition of the importance of the individual for the group (Resolution 11.23 Conservation Implications of Cetacean Culture), and an acknowledgement of the animal welfare concerns in relation to the capture of dolphins, but not referring to killing methods employed for animals not captured alive (Resolution 11.22 Live Captures of Cetaceans from the Wild for Commercial Purposes). 


Species listed in Appendix I (see question 2) are to be afforded strict protection by CMS Parties, which includes the prohibiting of taking, except for scientific purposes, ex-situ conservation, traditional subsistence use, or under extraordinary circumstances (see treaty text). Selling of animals for commercial purposes does not fall under any of these categories, so for Appendix I species this should be made illegal in the national legislation of Parties.

For Appendix II species, sustainable use is possible (see question 2). This would generally allow the removal of individuals from a population irrespective of the purpose of the capture.

In 2014, however, CMS Parties passed Resolution 11.22 Live Captures of Cetaceans from the Wild for Commercial Purposes. While this resolution does not affect Japan directly, as it is not a Party to CMS (see questions 4 and 5), it is a strong statement of Parties against taking dolphins from the wild in order to display them.

This resolution acknowledges the increasing global concern for animal welfare in relation to the live capture, transport and keeping of cetaceans. It calls on countries to develop and implement national legislation prohibiting the live capture of cetaceans from the wild for commercial purposes, and to review their regulations regarding import and international transit of live cetaceans. It also asks countries, whether Parties to CMS, to its regional Agreements or Signatories to relevant CMS instruments and non-Party States actively to discourage new live captures from the wild for commercial purposesglobally.

To assist in the implementation of Resolution 11.22, in 2015 the Secretariat sent a questionnaire to Parties to assess their relevant legislation. Assistance is being offered to those Parties wishing to make their legislation stricter when it comes to capture, transit or import of wild-caught dolphins.


All of us here in the Secretariat care deeply about the animals we are working to protect – and others not covered by the Convention.

As UN staff serving as Secretariat to a Convention, we are bound by the mandates of the Convention (see question 1 and2). Whatever our opinions and activities may be as private persons, in our professional lives we focus on the many tasks the Parties assigned to us, and cannot speak about matters the Parties have not agreed a position on, except to bring these matters to their attention.

Many people write to us about the dolphin hunts in Taiji and the Faroe Islands. We share their sadness, but as explained in these FAQs, we are not in a position to take action as the CMS Secretariat.


As far as we know, nobody has had a credible idea how to achieve this. It is not possible to explain the danger to wild animals. It is not possible – legally, ethically or practically – to fence off a country’s marine area, neither by some kind of structure, nor by using acoustic deterrents, as some have suggested. Any such measure would not only have to cover huge ocean areas, it would also endanger the animals through entanglement or underwater noise.

The only way to address threats to migratory species, be they cetaceans or any other species, is by managing the human behaviour that endangers them. As the Convention Secretariat, we do everything we can to help our Parties do just that through the possibilities they have as governments. The actions of non-Party States are outside our sphere of influence.