About this document
Conservation and values
Based on economics, science and ethics, Australia’s support for whale conservation is well known. To ensure that the global debate about the future of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) is informed by the latest information, the Australian Government commissioned an overview of the conservation status of cetaceans and how they are valued.
The progress report Conservation and Values Global Cetacean Snapshot was released on 14 June 2008 before the 60th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission.
The Global Cetacean Summary Report follows on from this report by presenting the most current information on the conservation status of the world’s cetaceans and includes new information from the 2008 meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The report also highlights the main threats to their survival, and discusses the value of whale watching.
The report considers the following questions:
- What is the conservation status of the world’s cetaceans?
- What threats do cetaceans face?
- If better conservation management tools were developed, how should they be targeted?
- What have been the patterns of economic development based on living cetaceans around the world?
- What are the prospects for future economic growth?
- What contributes to a successful whale watching industry?
- How can the economic values associated with the conservation of a natural asset be estimated?
Cetaceans have traditionally been classified within the Order Cetacea, hence that term is used in this report. However, the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species now classifies cetaceans within the Order Cetartiodactyla.
This Global Cetacean Report summarises existing scientific knowledge on the global conservation status of cetaceans and the threats to their survival, and reviews the economic value of cetaceans and their non-consumptive use through whale watching activities.
There are at least 86 cetacean species recognised by the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee. The summary report reveals that although some species have been closely studied, relatively little is know about the biology, ecology and status of many cetacean species and populations. This demonstrates the need for the continued and increasing international research effort to address key knowledge gaps, and for developing comprehensive conservation management strategies, particularly to alleviate the growing pressures on threatened species and populations.
A few species, and populations, have started to recover from the effects of commercial whaling. However, this report highlights that some cetaceans, especially river and coastal dolphins and porpoises, face increasing human induced threats including incidental mortality from fisheries, habitat degradation and climate change.
While there is simply not enough information to determine the conservation status of over half of the 86 cetacean species, five species are listed as Near Threatened and fourteen species as Threatened (see Table 1 on pg 9):
- 2 Critically Endangered species: the baiji (Yangtze River dolphin) and the Vaquita (Gulf of California porpoise).
- 7 Endangered species: the North Atlantic right whale, North Pacific right whale; sei whale, fin whale, blue whale, South Asian river dolphin and Hector’s dolphin.
- 5 Vulnerable species: Sperm whale, franciscana, finless porpoise, Irrawaddy dolphin, and the Atlantic humpback dolphin.
Following on from the initial Global Cetacean Snapshot which was produced in June 2008 the cetacean species listed as Critically Endangered and Endangered have remained the same. Within the Vulnerable species the conservation status for four species; the humpback whale, boto (Amazon River dolphin), beluga and harbour porpoise has improved whilst the sperm whale has remained the same.
As the status of one or more species improves the status of other cetaceans can decline. Sadly, this has occurred with another four species; the franciscana, finless porpoise, Irrawady dolphin, and the Atlantic humpback dolphin now being listed as Vulnerable.
This highlights the ongoing challenges associated with the conservation of cetaceans and the need for adaptive management measures.
Some subspecies and populations may have a different status to the overall species level.
The report finds that cetaceans are increasingly threatened by human activities including:
- hunting and whaling
- fisheries interactions including mortality from accidental capture or entanglement (bycatch) and deliberate culling
- habitat degradation or loss from coastal and river development and associated pollution
- noise disturbance and vessel strike
- disease outbreaks
- depletion of food resources through competition with fisheries
- climate change impacts.
These threats, if allowed to continue unabated, are likely to overwhelm some species, subspecies and populations and possibly drive some to extinction in the near future. However, the identification of these key threats highlights the areas which need to be targeted to actively manage the conservation of these animals.
By compiling and analysing all available global data, the report is able to identify ‘hot spot’ areas that simultaneously provide habitat for numerous threatened species, subspecies and populations.
These ‘hot spot’ areas show that threatened cetacean species are found in the oceans around each of the world’s continents. The main ‘hot spot’ regions, each of which has up to six threatened species, subspecies and populations, are identified in Map 1 on pg 12 of the report. They include:
- The South Pacific
- The South East Asian region
- The coastal areas of the East and South China Seas, the Northwest Pacific region and up to the Sea of Okhotsk
- The Bering Sea
- The Northeast Pacific region
- The Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland and in the Norwegian Sea
- Around parts of the British Isles and along Western Europe
- The east coast of North America
- The west coast of Africa
- The western South Atlantic.
This information could form the basis of future internationally coordinated conservation action.
Many people now value whales, dolphins and porpoises both in their own right and as unique living resources that play an important role in their aquatic ecosystems. For most people cetaceans also have an intrinsic value and this is reflected increasingly in economic terms through the global boom in ecotourism associated with whale and dolphin watching. This is one of the world’s fastest growing tourism sectors and it is estimated that visitor expenditure on whale watching in high income countries may grow to USD$2.0 to $2.6 billion per year over the next 20 years.
There are two main approaches to estimating the economic values associated with the conservation of a natural asset, in this case cetaceans. The methods are broadly defined as revealed and stated preference approaches. The former involves collecting data on actual expenditure by visitors to view cetaceans, while the latter relies on surveys of the general population to estimate values such as the existence values associated with cetaceans.
Research has identified that people are willing to pay significant amounts reflecting the value they place on the conservation and existence of cetaceans.
The report also identifies the significant opportunities for growth in the whale watching industry. Around 100 million people from high income countries have participated in whale watching, a figure that is increasing by 10 million each year.
High income countries continue to claim a major share of this activity. This indicates the potential for growth in sustainable development opportunities in middle and low income countries, provided the right preconditions are in place. Coupled with appropriate regulation and effective management to ensure the continued health of cetaceans, whale and dolphin watching can provide substantial socio-economic benefits to regional and national economies, benefits which will only increase in the future.
The benefits of whale watching also extend beyond direct market values. Successful whale watching can raise environmental awareness, increase our scientific understanding of cetaceans and create financial incentives for conservation of the marine environment.
Global Conservation Status of Cetaceans Report and the Socio-economic Value of Cetacean Conservation Report
The Global Cetacean Summary Report was based on research commissioned by the Australian Government and undertaken by the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre and Syneca Pty Ltd. The findings draw from a wide range of current literature, notably the reports of the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The two reports on which the summary report is based include the Global Conservation Status of Cetaceans Report and the Socio-economic Value of Cetacean Conservation Report. In the interests of brevity, references were not including in the summary report but the original reports and full references are available below.
*The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Government or the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts or the Minister for Climate Change and Water.
While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that the contents of this publication are factually correct, the Commonwealth does not accept responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the contents, and shall not be liable for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the contents of this publication.