A House of Commons select committee report published today (28 June 2023) shines a light on the gaps in the UK’s efforts to protect whales and dolphins. ‘Protecting Marine Mammals in the UK and Abroad’ released by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee, concludes that the ‘current UK legal framework around the protection of marine mammals is incoherent and not sufficient to effectively preserve these precious species.’
WDC chief executive, Chris Butler-Stroud, who gave evidence to the committee, comments:
'This report will make for uncomfortable reading for the UK government. It throws into stark contrast this country’s proud track record of standing up for whales and dolphins around the world, with its failings to adequately protect them in our own seas. But it’s not too late to put things right. We wholeheartedly support the report’s call for bespoke primary legislation to address these issues. A UK Marine Mammal Protection Act would close the loopholes exposed by the Efra committee’s report, remove the inconsistencies in our legislation, stop UK ports being used to sustain the hunting of whales and dolphins, and make this country a beacon for whale and dolphin protection.'
As the report highlights, marine mammals such as whales and dolphins play an important role in the ocean ecosystem, acting as nature-based solutions to climate breakdown. By replacing the current mishmash of legislation and guidance with clear and strong legal protections we will be able to help their populations recover – with immeasurable benefits for them, for marine life around Britain and for tourism.
The report makes a series of recommendations and observations that could lead to positive change in the way we protect marine mammals in UK waters.
Some of the key findings from the report include:
- Marine mammals play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem and in helping to combat climate change, and yet we don’t know whether UK whale and dolphin populations are declining, stable or growing
- UK measures are in stark contrast to best practice exemplified internationally by the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, with whales and dolphins in UK waters at risk from a ‘mosaic’ of threats
- Accidental bycatch in fishing gear is the biggest single threat to marine mammals, however current levels of monitoring are insufficient to gain an accurate picture of the numbers of marine mammals killed or injured in this way. The government should publish an action plan by December 2023 to phase in mandatory bycatch monitoring, and work with devolved governments on a plan to significantly bring down bycatch numbers
- The government should accelerate action in relation to protected marina areas in UK waters
- The government should raise issues of marine mammal welfare with those countries who still engage in hunting, such as Iceland, Norway, Japan and the Faroe Islands, during any talks on trade or fisheries
- The UK should not agree any new trade deals that don’t include a specific commitment to marine mammal conservation, and more must be done to integrate environmental considerations, including animal welfare, in free trade agreements