Marine experts welcome global resolution to save whales from plastic peril

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has welcomed news that a resolution calling for greater collaboration to save whales from plastic pollution was adopted by consensus at the 68th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portoroz, Slovenia last night.

Recognising the impact of ocean plastic pollution on whales and other cetaceans, the IWC resolution commends negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution and directs its secretariat to explore ways to support international work to prevent marine plastic pollution impacts on cetaceans. 

AMCS plastics expert, Shane Cucow, said the resolution was an important step towards protecting the world’s vulnerable dolphins and whales.

“Whales are disproportionately affected by marine debris, often becoming entangled in lost or discarded fishing gear or becoming starved and malnourished when they eat plastics by mistake.

“Many whales are filter feeders, consuming vast amounts of plastic as they move through the world’s oceans. This is leading to increased incidents of whales stranding on beaches with stomachs full of plastic,” Mr Cucow said.

The resolution requests the IWC’s Scientific Committee undertake work to identify global hotspots where whales and other cetaceans are most at risk of being entangled in or harmed by plastics and other marine debris.

It also encourages its subsidiary committees to engage with pilot projects to tag and track abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, which is a substantial threat to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.

“Our gentle giants were driven to the brink of extinction by whalers, until the world’s nations agreed to a historic global moratorium on commercial whaling forty years ago, at the International Whaling Commission in 1982.

“Whales continue to face enormous pressures, not least from plastics. Unless urgent action is taken to cut plastic use globally, plastic pollution of our oceans will triple by 2040.

“By supporting the UN Environment Assembly’s efforts to negotiate a global plastics treaty, the 88 nations of the IWC have recognised that we must stem the rising tide of plastic in our oceans in order to give our whales a chance to survive.

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A copy of the International Whaling Commission resolution is available here.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 as the global body responsible for management of whaling and conservation of whales. It is an inter-governmental organisation with a current membership of 88 governments from all over the world, including Australia.

Australia has been a global leader in whale conservation since the Fraser government banned whaling in 1979. Australia took and won the landmark International Court of Justice legal case against Japan over its whaling program in 2014.

There are documented cases of plastic ingestion in at least 57 out of the 90 known cetacean species (63.3%). More than 34% of cetacean species have had at least one documented case of entanglement, almost all involving abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG).

Ingesting plastic is strongly correlated with instances of whale and other cetacean stranding across the world.

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