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Small Cetacean Catches for Food, Bait, Trade and Traditional Uses

In some parts of the world, small cetaceans are caught for food, bait, trade or use in traditional customs.  These catches are small-scale, sometimes opportunistic and usually poorly documented.  Some are thought to be at unsustainable levels for the populations concerned, and the Scientific Committee of the IWC has a work programme in place to better understand these types of catches.  This programme involves international specialists in a variety of disciplines, and local communities where catches occur.

Reliable and consistent data is required in order to build a clearer understanding of the issue and any potential risks to cetacean populations.  The IWC has developed a toolkit of investigative techniques which can be used by local groups to collect data.  A series of workshops has been launched which aims to teach these techniques in regions where hunts occur.

The toolkit includes forensic skills such as on-the-spot DNA analysis, which might be used to identify marine mammal meat at market points, and zoonotic sampling techniques to test for disease.  The toolkit also teaches participants how existing research data can be used to assess trends, patterns and hotspots in regional and relevant data. In addition, training from social scientists allows the development of effective questionnaires for use in local markets or fishing communities.

The first workshop took place in Thailand in 2016.  It attracted two hundred participants from twelve countries and was supported by the Thai Government’s Department of Natural Resources and the Thai Royal Navy .  As well as introducing the toolkit, the workshop explained the specific, potential threats in the region and encouraged information sharing with local researchers and strandings networks.

Further workshops are now being planned in South America and Africa. The IWC is also engaging with other international organisations including the Convention for Migratory Species, the Convention for Biological Diversity and the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, all of whom have an interest in wildlife catches and uses, in order to share knowledge and pool resources wherever possible.