Cetacean Marine Protected Areas

By: Anne-Marie Boyer
Detailed Map- cetacean marine Protected areas

'Marine Protected areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises' (img cred: Eric Hoyt)

Our oceans are home to 87 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises that inhabit waters flanking 125 countries around the world. Commercial fishing, ship strikes and climate change are recognized as some of the major threats to large marine mammals today. There are no physical borders that divide water bodies and most of these cetaceans are migratory in nature, making it very hard to create and implement conservation plans.

“At least 300,000 whales and dolphins a year end up dead in fishing nets alone, as so-called by-catch,” the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s cetacean expert Erich Hoyt said in a printed statement.  “Whales in some areas have been found to be emaciated. And scarcely a year since the BP Gulf Oil disaster, it’s business as usual in large parts of the Gulf and elsewhere.”

In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) called for the establishment of a global system of Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks by 2012. Since then, the number of MPAs has grown to over 5000 in the 18 marine regions of the world. But this only conserves 0.7 percent of our total ocean area. Of these, 350 MPAs are known to protect cetacean habitat.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines marine protected areas as “any area of intertidal or sub-tidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part, or all, of the enclosed environment” (Kelleher,1999). In an interview, Hoyt explained this simply as a generic term indicating any area of the sea protected by formal or informal means.

Each country has different standards, rules and guidelines for protecting their MPAs and sanctuaries. While in Australia and New Zealand, a ‘sanctuary’ refers to a highly protected area, in the U.S. fishing is allowed in some national marine sanctuaries. To clear this confusion, the IUCN has come up with a grading system for MPAs, rating them on a scale of I-VI, where Category I is a region of high protection called ‘near wilderness’, and Category VI allows certain activities like fishing and tourism. However, grading MPAs is only a small step in the direction of implementing conservation strategies.

New England’s waterfront falls under marine region 4 in marine zoning. There are 11 functioning and seven proposed cetacean MPAs in the region, in addition to Bermuda’s whale sanctuary.

In his book, Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, Hoyt stresses the need for greater conservation of these marine mammals, and ways this can be achieved in the future. He provides a complete directory for all cetacean MPAs around the world (complete with maps) and the marine mammals that inhabit them. Hoyt’s book also details migratory patterns, threats faced by cetaceans and strategies for ocean zoning and planning which can address the gaps in MPAs today.


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