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Eastern South Pacific population of southern right whales

The southern right whale was seriously depleted by whaling during the 1700s and 1800s.  It was fully protected in 1935 but illegal hunting from the 1950s to 1970s delayed any recovery. 

Globally this species is classified as ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and recently there has been an encouraging increase in several populations.  The IWC’s Scientific Committee estimates that the total number of southern right whales in 2009 was about 13,600.  This figure is approaching 20% of pre-whaling levels.  However, the Chile-Peru subpopulation in the eastern South Pacific is classified as 'Critically Endangered' and may now number as few as 50 mature individuals. 

Key threats to this population include entanglement, ship strike and habitat degradation.  In 2012, the IWC endorsed a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) proposed by the Government of Chile.  A revised CMP was agreed in 2016 when Peru was welcomed as the second range state.

The overall aim of the CMP is to guide and encourage range state stakeholders (including government, industry, scientists and coastal communities) and international partners, to work towards the recovery of this population to a level that will withstand environmental and anthropogenic impacts, and ensure its long-term survival.

In 2014, the re-sighting of a female, this time accompanied by a calf, provided evidence of a breeding ground and the need for urgent work to identify its boundaries.   Therefore a crucial goal of the revised CMP is an acoustic monitoring programme, supported by the Scientific Committee.  This aims to identify a breeding area along the population's known distribution range, where targeted monitoring can be introduced in order to improve knowledge of this subpopulation, its trends and behaviours.

Another important goal of the CMP is to strengthen entanglement response capability along the Chile-Peru coast.  Any lethal entanglement is very detrimental to a population of this size and two have been recorded in a recent years (2014 and 2017). 

The IWC has conducted two entanglement response workshops, training nominated individuals in safe and effective response techniques.  The first was held in Chile (2015) and the second in Peru (2016).  Two Chilean apprentices were also seconded to the IWC Entanglement Network co-ordinator.  Their apprenticeship included advanced training and the opportunity to work with a professional team at the Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, who respond to real entanglements.  The apprentices returned to South America equipped to lead future training workshops to further build capacity in both Chile and Peru.

Other priorities for the CMP are coordination amongst stakeholders, guidance on whale watching regulations and public outreach.

You can read the revised 2016 Conservation Management Plan here.

You can read more about entanglement training here.