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Many cetaceans are migratory species which increases the potential for infectious diseases to spread rapidly over national boundaries and across oceans. Accurate assessment, early warning and information dissemination processes are vital in any attempts to manage diseases such as morbillivirus, which has led to a number of cetacean mass mortalities in recent years.

Knowledge of disease in cetaceans  remains limited and, whilst some national and regional research programmes exist, there is little coordination between them. In recognition of the need to build and share knowledge, the IWC began the Cetacean Diseases of Concern programme (CDoC) in 2008 (originally known as CERD). The programme focuses on both infectious and non-infectious diseases, particularly those that may be related to human activities, and those capable of spreading disease between animals and humans (zoonoses) which could pose a risk to aboriginal subsistence hunting communities.

Overall, the programme aims to introduce international collaboration on disease surveillance, diagnosis and risk management. A dedicated web-based forum has been created, enabling scientists all over the world to share knowledge, and disseminate information in near real-time.