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Homes for whales and dolphins

Whale and dolphin populations are under threat and need places where they are protected. We urgently need to create effective marine protected areas and reserves - safe havens that help to preserve the habitat critical for whales and dolphins in all the oceans of the world. Why? To protect them from the dangers of pollution, fishing nets, hunting, live-capture and to safeguard the places that they call home - before more of these vulnerable and endangered populations disappear from our planet. If we do not take action now, the health of our seas will continue to decline to a point of no return. WDC is helping to protect some of the most important marine habitats in the world.

Whales and dolphins may travel considerable distances but they have key areas which are critical to them, as ongoing ‘homes’ or for seasonal breeding or feeding grounds. If we protect these areas well, the chances of survival for whole populations improve.

The term ‘marine protected area’ or ‘MPA’ describes an area of ocean in which human activity is restricted to conserve the marine environment and the wildlife that lives there. Under this umbrella term there are many different types of and names for protected areas, including marine reserves, marine parks, marine sanctuaries, biosphere reserves and special areas of conservation, each with its own level of protection, depending on a country's laws.

A marine reserve usually has the highest level of protection. This can mean no commercial fishing or industrial use of the area.  A special area of conservation (SAC) is an area designated in European waters that protects certain land and marine habitats and species, including bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. Responsibility for management lies with national governments.

North Atlantic right whale
North Atlantic right whale

The definition for marine park, biosphere reserve and sanctuary can vary. Often, they are protected areas that allow some human activities to take place, sometimes through the use of special zones. Certain areas might be zoned for strict wildlife protection; other areas might be open for fishing, whale watching and other marine tourism. An example is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Zoning is also sometimes used in various types of MPAs.

MPAs are as important for the ocean as protected areas (e.g., nature parks, reserves, sanctuaries and conservation areas) are on land. The more we learn about whales and dolphins, the more we realise that their homes need just as much care in the design, implementation and enforcement as do the homes or habitats of animals that live on the land.

WDC is helping to design and implement some of the most important protected areas in the world, but we need your support to help us create effective homes for whales and dolphins before it is too late. In 2016, in response to our efforts US authorities designated critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales thanks to your help.

To learn more about making homes for whales and dolphins and to search a detailed directory of 740 proposed and existing protected areas for whales and dolphins, go to