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1st Edition of Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises

Introduction to Erich Hoyt's book Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins & Porpoises

There are three main driving forces behind Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins & Porpoises:

First, the habitat needs of cetaceans - the 84 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises - have been neglected. Marine habitat conservation has lagged behind land conservation. Within marine habitat conservation, cetaceans may be featured in certain reserves but are their needs being adequately met? In most cases the answer is no. We need to look carefully at identifying and protecting critical habitat for cetaceans. The habitat of these wide-ranging animals is best protected through ecosystem-based management approaches, using a carefully selected network of marine protected areas (MPAs), modelled along the lines of biosphere reserves, or zoned protected areas, which include both highly protected marine reserves as well as zones to allow human uses such as well-managed marine tourism and fishing. MPA regimes can address some or even most cetacean habitat protection needs, but it is useful to maintain a broad approach to conservation efforts on behalf of cetaceans to include other ecosystem-based protection and management strategies, international conventions and treaties, and other pragmatic approaches.

Second, there is more research and information on cetaceans than ever before - although large portions of it are difficult to access. The past three decades have seen the success of photographic identification (photo-ID) and other benign methods of studying cetaceans, including radio and satellite tagging and biopsy of skin and blubber for genetics and to measure contaminant loads and, most recently, diet. This has been the era of studying whales from live animals rather than carcasses, and with these studies, whales and dolphins have revealed certain details of their habitat needs, in many cases for the first time. There remain large gaps with most cetacean species, especially those that spend their lives in deep waters on the high seas, but the growing body of work is exciting, substantial and ready to be acted upon. Yet much cetacean habitat literature remains buried in unpublished reports, conference abstracts and proceedings, sighting databases, conservation organization newsletters, and papers in little known journals that are not easily accessible or known to protected area managers and conservationists who focus on habitat issues. Research-compiling tools such as SEAMAP are starting to address this gap by making species distribution and oceanographic data fully available on the web (Access to the OBIS-SEAMAP database and software tools is free; see http://obismap.env.duke.edu). Still, there is much, much more that has never been collected or written down - the local knowledge and wisdom of field biologists who come into contact with cetaceans; whale watch operators and their teams of naturalists, researchers, volunteers and others who spend long days, year in and year out, with whales and dolphins at sea; as well as those who watch from fishing boats, cruise and container ships, private yachts and other ships. Finding, processing and using this knowledge is much more difficult. This book, with its basic details on each proposed or existing MPA, should be seen as a starting point - a grass-roots document to assist with local conservation and to forge new links and connections to existing networks.

Third, cetaceans, because of their educational, scientific and economic value, as well as, in general, their need for large conservation areas, may provide a key to protecting ocean habitats and bringing large new areas under conservation management (Hoyt 1992; Agardy 1997; Augustowski and Palazzo 2003). Some cetaceans are rare or endangered and this provides the most basic conservation rationale. Still, it must be kept in mind that single species, or exclusively cetacean-oriented, approaches are generally of limited value. The best conservation projects consider the entire ecosystem, monitoring and protecting animals, plants and microorganisms, as well as considering people. They integrate marine areas with coastal communities. Such projects can only come from people with broad ecological and social perspectives. Unlike ocean management on a multijurisdictional basis in which different species are managed separately by various agencies that apply regulations independently of each other, an ecosystem-based management model provides the best approach. That means managing human interactions with ecosystems in order to protect and maintain ecosystem integrity and to minimize adverse impacts. This requires a whole ecosystem approach through ongoing scientific analysis and a commitment to adapt management practice quickly when new information signals a need for change. However, in adopting an ecological, high biodiversity-oriented approach, whales and dolphins should not be overlooked as they have in the past. Pragmatically, cetaceans attract public awareness and tourism, and they require a large habitat area, which can protect many other species. As long as calls for cetacean MPAs are underpinned by solid ecological studies, they may well produce great gains for many more - if not most - of the species involved, including humans.

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