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The unicorns of the sea must be protected – CITES

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The unicorns of the sea must be protected – CITES

The narwhal, is under threat. Often referred to as the unicorns of the sea, narwhals, are hunted for their meat, blubber and ivory tusks which are sold around the world. Populations are declining and they risk extinction in Greenland. To ensure their future, WDC is attending a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to push for protection for these iconic beings.

WDC scientific officer Katie Hunter is here to tell us more ...

CITES is an agreement between governments that regulates the international trade of wild animals and plants and aims to ensure that it does not threaten the survival of the species. Countries must adopt their own legislation to ensure what’s agreed at CITES is implemented, including trade bans or quotas. As part of our strategy to end cruelty and create safe seas, WDC attends CITES meetings to put forward the case for stopping international trade in whales and dolphins.

These charismatic creatures should not be a commodity. You and I know this, but we need to build awareness where it counts and help decision-makers connect the dots: meat is taken from whales hunted with unimaginable cruelty, and live dolphins are captured during drive hunts, their pods slaughtered around them. This may not be obvious to all, so we must start a conversation that leads to positive change for whales and dolphins.

Hvalur 8 arrives at whaling station
Hvalur 8 arrives at whaling station
The unicorn of the sea - the narwhal

Can you help to stop whale and dolphin populations from becoming extinct?

Some protection

Most of the great whales cannot be traded under CITES. They are afforded the highest degree of protection as they are included in Appendix I of the Convention. But many of the smaller species of dolphin can be traded internationally. These species are typically included in Appendix II, meaning CITES considers that while they may not be threatened with extinction, they do require some protection.

Blue whale at surface
Most great whales are protected by CITES but narwhals are not yet on the list.

Narwhals need protecting too

Narwhals fall into this second group. Exports of tusks and teeth from Greenland and Canada have increased dramatically over the last few decades; populations are declining and the risk of localised extinction is increasing. Intergovernmental bodies such as the IWC (International Whaling Commission – the body that regulates whaling) have repeatedly called for hunting to stop in Southeast Greenland, but the scientific advice is being ignored and the hunts have continued.

Exports of tusks to China have increased six-fold since 2012 (possibly due to traditional medicine and/or the closure of China’s domestic ivory market in 2017) and Greenland’s own scientists have concluded that trade may be driving the killing of narwhals. If the situation doesn’t change, the unicorns of the sea could be gone forever from the waters of Southeast Greenland.

Narwhal tusk Jewellery
Narwhals are salughtered and their tusks are made into Jewellery.

This is our opportunity 

This year’s meeting is particularly important because CITES is reviewing trade that took place over the last few years. They are looking to see if trade in any species/country combination is a cause for concern. This is where we come in. CITES is our chance to shine a light on the amazing narwhal to ensure their future on this planet.

With the help of our allies at Animal Welfare Institute and Pro Wildlife, we’ve gathered the evidence and put forward a powerful case to end this detrimental trade. We’re asking CITES to take the situation seriously and include narwhals in the next stage of their ‘Review of Significant Trade’ process. Throughout the meeting, we’ll be official observers - briefing delegates, starting dialogue, and highlighting the urgent need for action to save this magnificent species.

Narwhal surfacing, Canada. Image: Todd Mintz
This summit is our chance to protect one of the Arctic's most iconic species.

We won't stop

What's next? Following this summit is a meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, the group that provides guidance on the implementation of the Convention. This will run in Geneva between 6th and 10th November. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we will be there once again, and we’ll make sure narwhals are firmly in the spotlight.

Please help us today with a donation

If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us to protect whales and dolphins from the slaughter they currently face.