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Scientific Committee Handbook

The work of the IWC's Scientific Committee and its procedures

On this page

1 Introduction What is the SC Handbook?
2 Place Its place in the Commission System
3 Members Membership and Officers
4 Structure SC Structure and Meetings
5 Documents SC Reports and Papers
6 Research Fund SC Research Fund and budget details
7 Permit review Process for review of Scientific Permits
8 Data Availability Data Availability Report
9 SC Work Scientific Committee work (to be completed)
10 DNA Data Qualilty Guidelines for genetic studies related to management
Back to SC Homepage Return to previous section



Greg Donovan and Phil Hammond


The Scientific Committee was established by the Commission in 1950. This in part is a reflection of Article IV of the Convention that refers to scientific research and the publication of results, statistics and reports and in part a reflection of Article V2 of the Convention that states that inter alia Schedule amendments ‘...shall be based on scientific findings....’.  It has met each year since then.

The Scientific Committee was established in accordance with the Commission’s Rule of Procedure M1 and its general terms of reference are given in Rule M4.

The Rules of Procedure (ROP) of the Scientific Committee are decided by the Commission and published each year in the Annual Report of the Commission as well as being available here.

This document has been developed to provide a relatively simple explanation of the work of the Scientific Committee and its procedures and to be of value for scientists and non-scientists alike. It is intended to be a living document, regularly updated and incorporated into the IWC website. A pdf version of this document may be found here.


The Scientific Committee is one of four Committees established by the Commission, the others being the Finance and Administration Committee, the Technical Committee and the Conservation Committee (see Fig. 1).  Formally, the Scientific Committee reports directly to the Commission (which considers the SC report under appropriate items in its Plenary agenda) but in practice, some relevant sections of its report are first reported to other bodies of the Commission, depending on their Agendas (see Table 1). (read more...)

Fig. 1. Schematic summary of IWC structure showing information/reporting flow. The Technical Committee has not met in recent years so is not included.




The membership of the Scientific Committee comprises the following:

  1. national delegates; (read more...)
  2. invited participants; (read more...)
  3. representatives of specified intergovernmental organisations. (read more...)

In addition, Scientific Committee meetings can be attended by scientific representatives of non-member governments, observers from non-governmental organisations (whose CVs show that they have sufficient scientific background to understand the technical discussions) and local scientists, at the discretion of the Chair of the Scientific Committee (in consultation with the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Commission if the Chair believes attendance is inappropriate). Observers receive papers but cannot participate in discussions unless specifically invited to do so by the Chair under special circumstances.


The formal officers of the Scientific Committee are the Chair and the Vice-Chair; they are assisted by the IWC Secretariat’s Head of Science.  The Chair and Vice-Chair are elected by the Heads of Delegation, normally (since 1980) every three years; unless there are special circumstances, the Vice-Chair succeeds the Chair automatically. Although voting can occur, the preferred approach is to reach consensus. The role of the Chair and Vice-Chair is to facilitate the work of the Scientific Committee in providing the best scientific advice to the Commission, not to represent their country. (read more...)


The primary meeting of the Scientific Committee is the annual meeting. This was usually held immediately prior to the Commission’s Annual Meeting. In 2012 the Commission agreed to move to biennial meetings whilst the Scientific Committee will continue to meet annually. The Committee will usually meet for two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. Biennial Commission meetings will usually be held in the period of September/October. At the request of the Commission, the Scientific Committee may hold full intersessional meetings on particular issues but these are rare. More commonly, the Scientific Committee holds intersessional workshops that do not comprise the full Scientific Committee and the results are reported to the Scientific Committee at annual meetings; these workshops may either be on a specific one-off topic (e.g. climate change and cetaceans) or forward ongoing work of the Committee (e.g. with respect  to Revised Management Procedure Implementations).


The authoritative body is the full Scientific Committee. Its broad agenda is set in response to the needs of the Commission. The Scientific Committee’s Rules of Procedure outline in the terms of reference the primary topics of interest and their origin in either the Convention, Schedule, Commission Resolution or Commission decision. In addition a more detailed workplan and priority topics is agreed at the end of each Scientific Committee meeting and presented to the Commission for approval/modification. In order to most efficiently address its broad agenda, the Committee forms a number of sub-committees and working groups (generically called sub-groups), with their own convenors and rapporteurs. The ‘Convenors’ group’ comprises the Chair, Vice-Chair, Head of Science, Secretary to the Commission, Secretariat computing manager and convenors. Rapporteurs play a vital role in the work of the Committee. They are members appointed by the relevant chairs and their responsibility is to take notes during the sessions and develop a draft report (see Item 5.5). (read more...)


Discussions at annual meetings now follow a similar pattern (e.g. see Table 4). The more detailed scientific work is undertaken by sub-committees or standing working groups in the first seven days or so; the final two days are held in plenary, primarily to review the work of the sub-groups and to agree the report. (read more...)


 In addition to meetings, the Committee and its sub-groups may establish intersessional correspondence groups. There are at least two types: (1) those with a broad mandate to explore issues that have proved intractable during a meeting with a view to proposing a way forward at the next meeting; and (2) those with a specific mandate and tasks that require considerable progress and commitment from members to allow the Committee to move forward at its next meeting. The 2015/16 intersessional correspondence groups, together with their terms of reference and membership can be found here. (read more...)


The Scientific Committee receives and writes a number of documents and reports. These are summarised briefly below. Apart from working papers (see conditions below), all papers are publicly available in the Secretariat’s archives although some have conditions on citation (see Item 5.2).

The categories of documents received by the Scientific Committee are as follows:

  1. National Progress Reports; (read more...)
  2. SC Primary Papers; (read more...)
  3. For Information Papers; (read more...)
  4. SC Working Papers; (read more...)
  5. SC Reports (including sub-groups/workshops); (read more...)


Each year, the Commission approves a research budget for the Scientific Committee for work that the Committee believes is essential to its work in providing the best scientific advice to the Commission. This includes inter alia Workshops (see Item 4), data processing, data collection and collation, analyses and the costs of inviting experts to annual and intersessional meetings (see Item 3.1.2). (read more...)

Most of the research supported by the IWC arises from discussions at annual meetings of the Committee. However, the Committee can accept applications developed by sub-committees for funding for research projects, the objectives of which are to advance the work of the Committee following a pro forma given here. In addition the Committee may consider and accept outside research proposals following the pro forma given here

For 2012/13, the research budget is £314,984. Details can be found under Item 23 of the Scientific Committee report. There is also a Voluntary Fund For Small Cetaceans Conservation Research. Details can be found here.

In addition, the Committee has a procedure to consider applications for the use of acoustic data, tissue samples or photo-identification photographs.


Article VIII of the Convention allows governments to issue their nationals special permits to take whales for scientific research. The Schedule (Para. 30) provides for the Scientific Committee to review and comment on them. However, although the Committee and the Commission itself can comment on proposed permits, the final decision over content and numbers of animals resides with individual Contracting Governments. The issue of scientific permit whaling has become increasingly controversial within the Commission as has the question of the review of scientific permit proposals and results.

All proposed permits have to be submitted for review by the Scientific Committee following Guidelines issued by the Commission but the ultimate responsibility for their issuance lies with the member nation. (read more...)


The Scientific Committee uses a very large amount of data to provide the best advice to the Commission. Some of these data are provided by Member governments to the IWC as a requirement under the Convention/Schedule. These data are held and administered by the Secretariat. Other data are provided by or can be made available from governments, other organisations and individuals. The availability of these data has sometimes proved to be a complex and sensitive issue. Recognising that a balance must be struck between the needs of the Scientific Committee and the rights of the scientists who have invested considerable time and effort in collecting the data, the Scientific Committee has formulated a Data Availability Agreement overseen by a Data Availability Group (DAG) comprising the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Committee and the Head of Science. The full data availability rules can be downloaded from here. (read more...)


The Scientific Committee covers a wide range of scientific subjects with respect to the conservation and management of cetaceans. Much of this is ongoing work and the following sections provide brief summaries of the work of the present sub-groups, including their remit from the Commission. It is expected that these sections will be drafted by the relevant Convenors in conjunction with Donovan and Hammond and updated as necessary. Some of this work has been included as explanatory text in Chair’s summaries this year.

Particularly for the more technical sub-groups the sections will include explanations (and in some cases PowerPoint presentations such as that given this year with the RMP Implementation Process) of fundamental tools used e.g. in RMP and AWMP.

It will also contain sections with respect to:

  • The catch database
  • The data from IDCR/SOWER cruises including (IWC-DESS, biopsy and photo-identification)
  • Ship strikes database


As genetic data are frequently applied to give advice to the IWC (including, but not limited to, detection of population structure), there is a need to agree on data quality criteria for currently used DNA marker types (sequences, microsatellites, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs); possibly nuclear DNA sequencing in the future). The guidelines and considerations on DNA quality provided here represent common practice subject to ongoing discussion and will need future adaptation, as the state-of-the-art of DNA analysis in population genetics progresses.

It is also evident that, although accordance to these guidelines is highly desirable, this does not preclude consideration of genetic work failing to fully meet these standards. Nonetheless, the issues raised below are intended to assist Scientific Committee members in judging the respective reliability of information from genetic studies. In addition, for studies explicitly carried out to give stock definition advice to the IWC, adherence to these guidelines is strongly recommended.

The full guidelines for DNA data quality control for genetic studies relevant to IWC management advice can be found HERE.