Small cetaceans are the cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises) not considered to be one of the ‘Great Whales.’ The IWC facilitates and funds a large number of small cetacean conservation programmes but it does not regulate hunting of small cetaceans.
The 1946 Convention which established the IWC does not define a 'whale,' although a list of twelve species was annexed to the Convention. Some member governments believe that the IWC has the legal competence to regulate catches of these named ‘Great Whales’ only. Other members believe that all cetaceans, including the smaller dolphins and porpoises, fall within IWC jurisdiction. The IWC has never regulated cetacean hunts and no consensus has so far been reached.
Despite this disagreement, the Commission agrees that the Scientific Committee has a role in studying and advising on small cetacean conservation issues. The Scientific Committee's Small Cetaceans Sub-Committee was established in 1979.
The Commission also recognises the need for international co-operation to conserve and rebuild depleted populations of small cetaceans. It has encouraged countries to seek scientific advice on small cetaceans from the IWC, and also invited IWC member nations to provide technical or financial assistance to countries with threatened small cetaceans stocks.
The IWC has also established a very successful voluntary fund to support research projects focused on small cetacean conservation.