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Small cetaceans

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 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 small cetacean hunts and no consensus has so far been reached.

Despite this disagreement, the Commission recognises that the Scientific Committee has a role in studying and advising on small cetacean conservation issues, and 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 encourages countries to seek scientific advice from the IWC on small cetaceans, and has invited IWC member nations to provide technical or financial assistance to countries with threatened small cetacean populations.  .  In 2014, a Resolution was passed which established new and specific terms of reference to consolidate the Scientific Committee’s mandate on small cetaceans within its wider work programme.  The first Conservation Management Plan for a small cetacean, the Franciscana, was endorsed by the Commission at its 2016 meeting.

In recent years, the Scientific Committee has been working to better understand the extent and impact of catches of small cetaceans for food, bait, trade and traditional uses.  This includes a new workshop series aiming to build capacity among local groups to collect, share and analyse data which will help to establish a clearer picture of both the local and global situation.

The IWC has also established a very successful voluntary fund to support research projects focused on small cetacean conservation.