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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whales are targeted by Icelandic whalers

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...
Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

To protect whales, we must stop ignoring the high seas

Almost two-thirds of the ocean, or 95% of the habitable space on Earth, are sloshing...
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...
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Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...

SOS alert for whales off Norway!

I have to admit to bitter disappointment when I arrived in Tromsø, northern Norway, a...

Norway's whaling season begins

April 1st saw the start of the whaling season in Norway. Despite a widely-accepted international moratorium...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

41 candidate important marine mammal areas (IMMAs) identified in the Med

The first ever workshop to define Important Marine Mammal Areas — IMMAs — concluded last week in Chania, Greece with the identification of 41 candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs) in the Mediterranean region. They range in size from 50 km2 for species such as the Mediterranean monk seal to over 134,000 km2 across the Ligurian Sea and Northwest Mediterranean for fin and sperm whales. Nine marine mammal species were proposed for cIMMAs from a total of 11 being evaluated by the participating experts. Some cIMMAs feature multiple species of marine mammals.

This work represents the culmination of three years effort by the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation and Tethys Research Institute and other groups to put the precious habitats of whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine mammals on the map for conservation planning. The Mediterranean is the first pilot region with others to follow over the next five years.

IMMAs are a new tool for conservation, modelled after the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) concept. IMMAs are defined as discrete portions of habitat, important to marine mammal species, that have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation. IMMAs are an advisory expert-based classification, and have no legal standing as  MPAs but are intended to be used in conservation planning by governments, intergovernmental organisations, conservation groups, and the general public. Some may become part of future MPA or zoned protection areas while others will be valuable for marine spatial planning (MSP) or to monitor areas for climate change, bycatch, noise, shipstrike and other threats faced by marine mammals. In some cases IMMAs may reveal that existing MPAs, management zones or protection measures may need to be altered based on new emerging evidence. Marine mammals, like seabirds, are important indicator species for ecosystem health and biodiversity, aided by their high visibility. They are also umbrella species able to bring many other species under protection.

The 5-day workshop (24-28 October) was organised by the  IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force and sponsored by the MAVA Foundation. There were 34 expert participants from 18 countries including Albania, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Malta, Duke University and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre attended as observers. ACCOBAMS—the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area—joined the Task Force as a Partner, also helping with the organisation along with the Tethys Research Institute.

The workshop considered many areas of interest (AoIs) which were submitted to the workshop by participants, as well as by the wider marine mammal research and conservation community. The experts agreed on proposing the 41 cIMMAs based on the best evidence available. The cIMMAs will next go to an independent review panel who will assess whether the criteria were applied correctly and verify that the available supporting evidence was sufficient to support each of them. If approved, the boundaries and supporting evidence will be made available on the Task Force website. The other AoIs identified by experts will be used to assist with highlighting reference areas for further marine mammal research, which will help build an evidence base on which future cIMMAs may be proposed.

The Task Force is already making plans for future IMMA workshops in other regions of the ocean. The next one will cover the vast South Pacific and will be held in Apia, Samoa, in late March 2017. From 2018-2021, further workshops will bring together marine mammal experts from the Northeast Indian Ocean, the Northwest Indian Ocean, the Southeast Pacific and the waters of Australia-New Zealand and adjacent Oceania waters. These southern hemisphere workshops will be funded as part of the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative (GOBI) and the German government’s International Climate Initiative (IKI).

For more information about IMMAs and the work of the Task Force, see the Task Force website.