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Although southern right whales are classified as ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the species was severely depleted by the whaling industry, and the population’s recovery was delayed by illegal hunting from the 1950s to 1970s.

Some south Atlantic southern right whale populations are reported to be increasing at around seven per cent annually. However, the survival and recovery of the southwest Atlantic southern right whale, which was estimated at around 4,000 whales in 2010, continues to require prompt and effective conservation action.

One of the key concerns for this population is the widespread mortalities of calves. A southern right whale workshop, held by the Commission in 2011, highlighted that 91 per cent of southern right whale deaths since 1971 have been first year whale calves.

The Southwest Atlantic Southern Right Whale CMP was endorsed by the Commission in 2012. Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay are signatories to the CMP. Brazil was appointed coordinator for the CMP in 2016.

The CMP is reviewed annually with a comprehensive evaluation every 3-5 years. The first comprehensive review was completed in 2016. The review report can be downloaded here.

The overall goal of the CMP is to protect habitat for the population, and minimise anthropogenic threats to maximise population recovery. 

Progress to date

Progress to date includes the appointment of a Co-ordinator and Steering Committee, research into the population’s geographic interaction, capacity building of range states to respond to whale strandings, studies with satellite telemetry on southern right whales off Peninsula Valdes to determine their migratory route, and efforts to share data across catalogues that provide complementary information.

Several workshops have been held, including on calf mortality and possible links with kelp gull harassment in nursery areas, and on identification of sensitive areas in Argentine waters. 

In Brazil, boat-based whale watching has been prohibited since 2015, and a government management plan for whale watching is being finalised.

You can read about the satellite telemetry programme here.

Also available for download is a press release and full report of the workshop on calf mortality in Peninsula Valdes.

Priority work areas

Priority actions for the CMP during the 2018-20 intersessional period include:

  • Developing a strategy specific to each range state to increase public awareness of the conservation status of, and potential threats to, southern right whales, and to build capacity in range states to respond to entangled and stranded whales.
  • Determining movements, migration routes, and location of feeding ground(s) through satellite telemetry.
  • Ensuring long-term monitoring of abundance, trends, and biological parameters through photo-identification and biopsy sampling.
  • Developing a regional entanglement response strategy.
  • Establishing an expert advisory panel to review environmental impact assessments associated with human activities that may affect southern rights whales in the region.