Choose your language:

The Scientific Committee (SC) advises the Commission on scientific aspects of a wide range of issues relevant to cetacean conservation and management. Topics on the agenda at this year’s meeting included assessments of specific population abundances, structures and status, ecosystem modelling, environmental issues and human impacts such as ship strikes and bycatch.

One theme recurring in a number of different work programmes was accessibility.  The virtual format of the meeting itself enabled many more scientists to participate, with approximately 500 attendees compared to an average in-person total of 150-200.  The percentage of newcomers was 32% and additional support was made available via introductory sessions and user guides in English, French and Spanish. (See map above for participant locations).

The Committee agreed the next steps in an SC-wide communications initiative aiming to make their work more accessible to both the Commission and the general public; this will be launched at IWC69. In addition, the Status of Stocks work programme established the next steps in developing tools that will simplify and share complex assessments of population status via the IWC website.  Accessibility of information was also featured in a proposal to increase awareness of the real risks of cetacean extinctions and to flag concerns regarding specific populations in a clear, public and timely way. 

Core, long-term programmes continued work to understand individual population sizes, structures and status, model and assess the impacts of different activities such as hunting and bycatch.  At this meeting, detailed reviews were completed for West Greenland bowhead whales and North Atlantic common minkes, and an update on the status of finless porpoise (marine) was compiled.         

Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, the SC managed to hold a number of expert workshops in the last twelve months and the Committee received reports and recommendations from workshops on climate change, the cumulative impacts of pollution and the role of whales in the ecosystem.  A review of the global trade in small cetacean (and other marine megafauna) wildmeat was also presented, following the Committee’s five year focus on this topic.

The impacts of the pandemic on cetaceans also remained on the SC agenda this year, with more information available on the surge in marine debris and cases of ingestion and entanglement involving pandemic waste material, particularly Personal Protective Equipment such as surgical masks.

The IWC Strandings Initiative was also asked to survey its network on the impacts of the pandemic on regional strandings programmes, and an Intersessional Group reported progress on work to operationalise the One Health concept within the SC and IWC. One Health reflects the intricate relationship between human, animal, environmental and even economic health, and the need to take a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling issues.  This concept became even more pertinent in the face of the global pandemic.

Budgetary concerns were another topic cutting across different groups and work programmes.  A major Commission-wide initiative to manage financial challenges and deliver a balanced budget will be discussed at the IWC meeting in October.  The SC research budget is one of the three separate budgets delineated by the IWC and funds will not be allocated until the conclusion of the October discussions. 

The SC therefore developed a process of scoring and ranking budgetary proposals, giving highest priority to projects directly linked to progressing areas of work critical to fulfilling the most immediate priorities, such as population assessments.   This process produced a prioritised work programme, included in the report, which will be presented at the Commission’s October meeting.

The SC report contains summaries of the presentations, discussions and all the recommendations made on every topic addressed at this year’s meeting, only a small selection of which are highlighted here.

Read the Report of the 2022 Meeting of the Scientific Committee.