About the CSG

The IUCN/SSC Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG) is one of the more than 100 Specialist Groups and Task Forces overseen by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is a science-based network of some 9000 volunteer experts from almost every country in the world. Some specialist groups, such as the CSG, address conservation issues related to particular groups of plants or animals while others focus on topical issues, such as the reintroduction of species into former habitats or wildlife health. The SSC’s main role is to advise IUCN on biodiversity conservation, provide scientific advice to conservation organizations and government agencies, and support the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.

– Expert advice for science-based conservation

Since the 1960s, the CSG has played a major role in identifying conservation problems facing the world’s whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The continued existence of some cetacean species is at high risk. The baiji (Yangtze River dolphin) became extinct early in this century; the vaquita has declined to, at most, a few tens of individuals; and the North Atlantic right whale now numbers only several hundred. Local or regional populations of other species have disappeared or are rapidly declining and are seriously imperiled.

A Peale’s Dolphin, Lagenorynchus australis, photographed in the Chiloé Archipelago, Chile. Photo: Sonja Heinrich

CSG – Our Mission
The CSG promotes and facilitates the conservation of cetaceans worldwide. It seeks to function as a catalyst and facilitator for cetacean-related research and conservation action as well as a source of expert advice. Our guiding premise is that conservation ultimately depends upon good science, and the group’s credibility and value rest on maintaining high standards of scientific rigor. The advice we provide relates mainly to the conservation status of populations, abundance, trends, the identification and assessment of known or potential threats, and ways to mitigate those threats.


The CSG currently has 145 members worldwide who contribute experience and technical expertise to the growing pool of knowledge about cetaceans. With ongoing revision and debate about how they should be classified, more than 90 cetacean species are currently recognized. These animals live in a variety of habitats, from coastal waters to the high seas far beyond the national jurisdiction of any country. Also, a number of cetacean species inhabit certain rivers and lakes in southern Asia and South America.

A rare shot of the elusive Hectors beaked whale (Mesoplodon hectori) off Western Australia
A rare photo of an elusive Hector’s beaked whale, Mesoplodon hectori, off Western Australia. Photo: Nick Gales

Some species are migratory, requiring vast areas of ocean to move between feeding and calving waters, whilst others reside only or primarily in particular sections of rivers and coastal waters. Although the great whales such as the blue, humpback, sperm, and right whales are important to the CSG’s mission, these animals tend to receive a lot of attention from other groups, including the International Whaling Commission (IWC), so the CSG generally focuses more on smaller, often lesser-known species that are particularly threatened with extinction.


We recognize that the CSG’s role is often only a first step and that long-term cetacean conservation depends on the efforts of governments, NGOs, local communities, and passionate, highly motivated individual activists. The CSG conducts status assessments of all cetacean species and some subspecies and subpopulations for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Members are also engaged in conservation planning and implementation of conservation actions around the globe, as well as in networking with various international conservation bodies concerned with cetacean conservation.

Sousa teuszii travelling along coast Atlantic humpback dolphins, Sousa teuszii, travelling along the coast off Flamingos, Namibe Province, Angola. Photo: Caroline R. Weir

The current Co-Chairs of the CSG are Randall Reeves and Gianna Minton and the Deputy Chair is Gill Braulik. Barbara Taylor is the focal point of the Red List Authority and, with Grant Abel, co-chairs the Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans (ICPC). We have seven regional coordinators: Brian Smith and Louisa Ponnampalam (Asia), Enrique Crespo (South America), Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho (Mexico and Central America), Tim Collins (Africa), and Elanor Bell and Mike Double (Oceania).


This website provides details about CSG membership and leadership, summaries of the Red List status of cetaceans and the procedures for red listing, and updates on conservation issues considered important to CSG members and the wider world. News articles are usually produced by CSG members in collaboration with the Co-Chairs and Deputy Chair.


Lucia Davids at the Seattle Aquarium serves as a part-time Program Officer for the CSG.


Socialising Heaviside’s dolphins, Cephalorhynchus heavisidii, photographed in Walvis Bay, Namibia. Photo: Simon Elwen