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WDC defines Critical Habitat for Cetaceans

Cetaceans are facing an increasing range of threats and impacts, yet few of the areas and conditions upon which they depend are formally protected.

The importance of protecting cetacean critical habitat and the ecosystems on which they depend is a key global goal of WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

WDC defines critical habitat in the following way:

Critical habitat is a geographic area or flexible oceanographic condition that is essential to the day-to-day survival and security of populations or sub-populations of marine mammals. These zones, which should be strictly protected, include habitat used for feeding, hunting, breeding, socializing, raising young, communication and migration.

Critical habitat should reside within a broader ecosystem protection approach that is responsive to changing conditions. In the absence of information, large areas of potential critical habitat must be protected as a precautionary measure.

The migratory routes, oceanic conditions and seasonally changing boundaries of areas critical to the survival of cetaceans cannot be protected with fixed boundaries alone. More flexible definitions of marine protected areas and new regimes of protection of cetaceans are necessary.

WDC believes that by using a biosphere reserve-type approach, large areas can be designated which include flexible, highly protected "core areas" corresponding to cetacean critical habitat with boundaries that are adjusted as needed from year-to-year or even within seasons. Such adjustments would be adaptive, constantly reviewed and sensitive to signals from the wider environment.

Ideally, cetacean critical habitat protected areas would exist within a broader system of ecosystem protection measures to ensure that habitat quality is maintained. The use of ecosystem based management (EBM) that ensures the protection of ecosystem services and works to minimise human impact is one of these mechanisms. Different applications of this mechanism will be necessary in different regions of the world.

Using cetaceans as the focal species in marine protected area design can help marine managers overcome the problems associated with limited biological and oceanographic information when seeking to protect ecosystems. Being long-lived, migratory, high order predators and subject to most of the threats found in the ocean, cetaceans offer a logical choice as an umbrella species to aid in marine protected area design, particularly in large marine ecosystems and across jurisdictions between states and on the high seas.

WDC believes that the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and CMS regional agreements such as ACCOBAMS, the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic Area, offer an ideal framework to develop such flexible and targeted regimes, through tailoring a range of measures to the needs of cetaceans in a region, fostered via a cooperative approach amongst range states.

For more information on critical habitat, click here.

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