Conserving cetaceans has become an increasing challenge in present times. Cetaceans are long-lived vertebrates, confined to the highest levels in marine trophic webs, and have a very low reproductive rate. They are thus particularly vulnerable to the complex of threats deriving from a variety of human activities. Threats to cetacean survival deriving from human activities can be particularly severe in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, due to the enclosed and semienclosed nature of such basins, and to the human density and intensity of activities, particularly in the coastal zone.
Direct killing of cetaceans has been a problem in the past, particularly in the Black Sea, where over 6 million dolphins and porpoises were eliminated in the 20th century alone. By contrast, legal, organised killing of whales and dolphins never took place in the Mediterranean, with the exception of whaling activities which occurred in the first half of the 20th Century in the Strait of Gibraltar. A limited amount of live capture of bottlenose dolphins occurs to date in the Black Sea, catering for the oceanariums industry, however the impact of this on the surviving populations is not known.
In a marine region where vessel traffic and other human activities are as intense as in the Agreement area, disturbance is also a source of considerable concern for the continued survival of cetacean populations. However, again, the need for a better understanding of the mechanisms affecting cetaceans and their long-term effects on populations appears as imperative. The potential of vessel traffic, collisions with ships, noise from various sources (shipping, industrial, coastal construction, dredging, mineral prospecting, military, etc.), and a growing commercial whale watching industry, to negatively affect the status of cetaceans in the Agreement area adds to the threats described above.
To counteract the effects of such a large number of impacting factors, it is imperative that well-integrated, science-based conservation strategies are devised and implemented. These include the managing of human activities (including fisheries, vessel traffic, whale watching, and activities that cause cetacean habitat degradation and loss) to mitigate negative impacts on cetaceans; granting special protection to areas containing critical cetacean habitats; undertaking targeted research and monitoring programmes; providing for timely responses to emergency situations; finally, promoting training, education and awareness programmes.
While all these conservation strategies are worthy of being undertaken, and all cetacean species living in the Agreement area deserve to be protected as well, a set of priorities must be defined in order to provide timely responses to address problems that are known or considered to be most urgent. In particular, four species appear to be in greater risk of declining and disappearing from the Agreement area, and are indicated by ACCOBAMS as deserving the status of "priority species": short-beaked common dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea, harbour porpoises, sperm whales, and common bottlenose dolphins.
Last Updated (Tuesday, 03 July 2012 09:25)