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Harbour porpoise © Chrys Mellor
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Success! Protection for porpoises at CMS

Ed Goodall

Ed Goodall

Ed is WDC's head of intergovernmental engagement. He meets with world leaders to increase protection and reduce harm to whales and dolphins, for their sake and our own.

There are only a few hundred harbour porpoises left in the Baltic Proper, and they are teetering on the brink of extinction. But here’s the good news: our efforts have resulted in a big win for these little porpoises, bringing us one step closer to securing their future.

Harbour porpoise breaching
These little guys need protecting!

Uzbekistan wasn’t ever a place I thought I’d visit, but representing whales and dolphins can take you to some interesting places. I found myself in the city of Samarkand, on the old Silk Road in an unseasonably warm February to participate in the Convention of Migratory Species with my WDC colleague Katie Hunter.

Ed Goodall and Katie Hunter at COP14
Ed Goodall and Katie Hunter at COP14

Myself and Katie Hunter at the Convention on Migratory Species.

This conference happens every three years and it is dedicated to protecting species that regularly move from one area of the world to another, crossing country borders – we call them migratory species. The theme of this year’s conference (COP14)? ‘Nature knows no borders’.  It’s a clear reminder that if we want to address the biodiversity crisis, saving migratory species is crucial and countries must work together. By joining forces at this conference, countries have an opportunity to create policies that reduce threats and restore the habitats that these species encounter throughout their entire journey.

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Flock of migrating birds

COP14 offers an opportunity to guarantee the safe and unharmed journey of species crossing borders.

What’s it got to do with us?

While countries and NGOs from all around the world gather to come up with plans to protect various migratory species from eagles and eels to bats and big cats, we were there to be the voice for the whales, dolphins and porpoises who travel over country borders. This year, we were speaking up on behalf of the smallest species – the harbour porpoise, and specifically the Baltic proper population.

Humpback whale migration
Harbour porpoise © Nicola Hodgins/WDC

Many species of whales, dolphins and porpoises undertake long journeys, but it's the barriers we humans place on their freedom that impacts them the most.

This group, now only found in the waters of Sweden and Poland, is threatened by accidental entanglement in fishing gear, also known as bycatch, environmental contaminants, and underwater noise from shipping and offshore wind farm construction. As a result, they’re at critical risk of extinction and the most recent estimates suggest there are only a few hundred individuals left.

Harbour porpoise on beach in Wales

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Success!

Along with our NGO friends, we’ve worked for years to highlight and reverse their decline and at COP14, they were finally given the extra protection we’ve been asking for. The countries in attendance made the unanimous decision to include this population on a special list: Appendix I of the Convention. Being on this list means that countries will now be urged to further conserve or restore their habitat, remove obstacles to their movement and control other factors that may endanger them. And while the group known as ‘the Baltic proper population’ has advanced to this special list, the rest of the species have maintained their position on another list, Appendix ll, and will continue to receive special measures of protection.

Leaping harbour porpoise
A big win for harbour for porpoises in the Baltic Sea. Image: Chrys Mellor

Persistence pays off

This triumph didn’t happen overnight. It was the culmination of years of hard work by a group of NGOs, including WDC, Coalition Clean Baltic, Humane Society International and ORCA. Together, we have developed a recovery plan, worked within regional and international agreements and evaluated the use of ‘pingers’. These are devices that make a noise to alert porpoises and help them avoid getting caught in fishing gear – it’s like a warning signal to keep them safe.  Plus, we took our message to key decision-makers by delivering over a quarter of a million petition signatures. This is a big win for us, and for the majestic porpoises in the Baltic Sea, as it means more will be done to keep them safe, improve their conservation status and takes us one step closer to securing their future.

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Anything is possible when we work together.

Beyond the Baltic

Dolphins scored some wins too. After serious reductions in their population, largely due to gillnet entanglement, our friends in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay asked for more action to protect Franciscana dolphins. This was granted and over the next three years, they will draw up a management plan across 11 key areas throughout their range, to remove threats from gillnets. That’s not all. These same countries proposed an increase in protection for Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins, with the aim of protecting their population, of fewer than 600 individuals, from extinction. I'm delighted to announce this request was accepted and they too have advanced up to Appendix l. We hope that these two developments will lead to meaningful changes that allow numbers to rise again.

Franciscana dolphin calf
Lahille's bottlenose dolphin

Franciscana dolphin (left) and Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin (left). © L. Russo Lacerna & M. Failla/ Fundación Cethus

After a busy week, working with friends from many organisations, the policy dial has been shifted positively for whales and dolphins and that is something to celebrate. We couldn’t have achieved this win for these incredible porpoises without the help of our dedicated supporters. Thank you.

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