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Harbour porpoise. Image: Charlie Phillips/WDC

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Conservation in action – working on an international stage to protect whales and dolphins

Unlike us humans, whales, dolphins and porpoises don’t entertain the concept of borders. For them it’s not the artificial construct of imaginary barriers that prevents them from living their life as they please, for them it’s all just one big connected ocean (or river). For those species that migrate, whether it’s a journey from one hemisphere to another or the fact that in their daily lives they could be in the waters of one country in the morning and another in the afternoon, it’s the barriers that we humans place on their freedom that impacts them the most. From bycatch to underwater noise, it is us who pose the biggest restrictions to their day-to-day movements.

There are 38 species of dolphins that live in the ocean.

So what are we doing to try to counter these threats and intrusions? The Convention on Migratory Species (otherwise known as CMS or the Bonn Convention) is an intergovernmental treaty under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Countries (otherwise known as ‘Parties’ – and there’s 130 of them) come together under this ‘umbrella’ to help protect migrating avian, terrestrial and aquatic species by enacting conservation initiatives and collaborating with each other to ensure the threats that wildlife face are addressed. You can imagine therefore that the task is mighty – yet couldn’t be more important!

The 130 member countries come together every three years (at the Conference of the Parties or COP) to evaluate both the conservation status of migrating species and the threats they face and to agree ways to improve the situation for the most threatened species. These measures are then woven into everyday conservation.

I’m currently representing WDC at COP 13 in India to ensure countries are addressing some of the biggest threats facing whales, dolphins and porpoises around the world.

I'm at the CMS meeting to represent whales, dolphins and porpoises
I'm at the CMS meeting to represent whales, dolphins and porpoises

During this week I’ll be pushing for more countries to introduce laws prohibiting the capture of whales and dolphins from the wild for commercial purposes. Although some countries already have appropriate legislation in place, others are sadly lacking.

I’m also working to get action to stop dolphins and small whales ending up on dinner plates. We’ve seen a worrying growth in the numbers of individuals meeting this fate, often after becoming entangled in fishing nets. We need to act with urgency to ensure that populations and even entire species of dolphins do not become extinct. This week, I’ll be championing Atlantic humpback dolphins, one of only two species endemic to Africa, who will be gone from our planet forever if nothing is done to tackle this issue.

A little bit closer to home, we’re looking to address the plight of the Baltic and the Iberian populations of harbour porpoises. Both are facing threats and experiencing a rapid decline in their numbers. Only co-ordinated and collaborative actions can help ensure they survive.

I'm working hard to get protection for porpoises
I'm working hard to get protection for porpoises

I’ve got a jam-packed week ahead and I’m so grateful for the generosity of our supporters. It’s your donations that mean I can attend important meetings, like this one, where decisions are made that can protect and conserve whales, dolphins and porpoises well into the future.

My view of the conference hall where conservation decsions are made
My view of the conference hall where conservation decsions are made

Help us get to more important events like this

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About Nicola Hodgins

Policy Manager at WDC


  1. Jane Powell on 25th February 2020 at 7:53 am

    You’re doing an amazing job Nicola. Is anything happening to protect the last vaquitas?

    • Nicola Hodgins on 27th February 2020 at 3:50 pm

      Thanks Jane. Although the crisis facing the vaquita was mentioned several times, unfortunately due to this meeting being specifically about ‘migratory’ species, no specific measures were discussed. As noted, the plight of the vaquita was not forgotten and several of us held them up as an example of what might happen to several species that do fall under the jurisdiction of CMS if appropriate and immediate action is not taken to protect them.

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