The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is to start an inquiry into issues affecting marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals. The investigation by the Committee, which scrutinises the work of the government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will cover marine mammals in UK waters and worldwide.
The aim is better to understand the role that the UK can play in protecting these creatures.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are a group of marine mammals collectively known as cetaceans. During the 19th and 20th centuries many cetacean populations collapsed due to over-hunting.
A moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales was introduced in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission. The recovery from near extinction of some whale populations, such as humpback whales, is considered a major conservation success story. However, some other populations, such as North Atlantic Right Whales remain critically endangered.
Despite the 1986 moratorium some counties such as Canada, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, and the United States continue to hunt whales. There are several reasons advanced for this, from respecting traditional indigenous practices to commercial and scientific arguments. In February 2022 Iceland signalled that it aims to ban commercial whaling by 2024.
Beyond whaling there are several human-made hazards that threaten marine mammal populations. These include ocean noise, bycatch (where mammals are inadvertently caught by fishers), ship collision, pollution, climate change and other forms of habitat degradation. Furthermore, there have been reports that the number of cetacean ‘strandings’ (on land) is on the rise. The causes of these strandings are unclear, including any possible human causes.
Other marine mammal populations such as seals, manatees and dugongs are also thought to be affected by these human-made hazards.
Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border, member of the EFRA Committee and veterinary surgeon said:
“ I am really pleased as an MP and vet that our cross-party EFRA Committee made up of Conservative, Labour and SNP MPs, has initiated this inquiry on Marine Mammals on my suggestion. We have a duty to conserve our precious environment and all that is in it, and this includes our seas and oceans. Marine mammals are under threat from human actions, both directly in the abhorrent practice of whaling and also indirectly through pollution and fishing. This inquiry will shine a light on these issues and we can then make recommendations to the UK Government which can be a beacon to the rest of the world on this.”
The Committee is seeking views in the following areas, which make up the terms of reference for the inquiry:
1. What is the status of marine mammal populations?;
2. How, and for what purpose, are marine mammals being killed?;
3. Beyond whaling, what human behaviours are affecting whale populations and how?;
4. How effective are the global protections of marine mammals?;
5. How can the UK better protect marine mammals?; and
6. What role can the UK Government play to protect and promote the conservation of marine mammals internationally?
The Committee will welcome evidence to inform its inquiry from a wide range of people including experts, stakeholders, government leaders and officials. For general information on how to submit written information to us, and how we then use that information, please click here. To make a submission on this inquiry and for full details about it, please link to our website.
The closing date for submissions of written evidence is Friday 27 May at 2359 HRS BST