Nuremberg Workshop on Ex-situ Options for Cetacean Conservation and the Launch of ICPC
Nuremberg ESOCC Workshop
The extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin, or baiji, in China in 2006, and the recent precipitous decline of the vaquita in Mexico, have highlighted the urgency of gaining information and taking action to anticipate and prevent such rapid declines in other threatened species and populations of small cetaceans. With this in mind, a workshop entitled “Ex situ Options for Cetacean Conservation” (ESOCC) was held in Nuremberg, Germany, from 14–18 December 2018. The ESOCC workshop discussions centred on eight species of small cetaceans that are designated in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable.
These species (listed below alphabetically, not by Red List status) all have shallow-water or freshwater distributions that entirely overlap areas used intensively by people.
- Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii) – Critically Endangered
- Franciscana (Pontoporia blainvillei) –Vulnerable
- Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) – Endangered
- Inia (Inia geoffrensis) – Endangered
- Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) – Endangered
- South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) – Endangered
- Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) – Data Deficient (but in the process of being reclassified as Endangered)
- Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocoena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis) – Critically Endangered
The resulting workshop report, published as an IUCN SSC Occasional Paper, concludes that it is necessary to act with urgency to consider critically needed conservation measures both in wild environments within the species’ geographic range (in situ) and in protected or modified environments within or outside that range (ex situ). This holistic framework for species conservation planning is known as the One Plan approach.
The workshop recommended (see full details in the Report) that:
- actions to conserve the most threatened small cetaceans in the wild be identified, funded and implemented with a sense of urgency.
- Priority be given to Atlantic humpback dolphins because they now exist only in low numbers and highly fragmented populations, threatened by increasing entanglement in gillnets and the consumption and trade of their meat.
- for each of the species reviewed, veterinary field protocols be applied during research activities such as health assessment, biopsy collection, and necropsy. Because practical experience with handling many of the species is lacking and their response to handling is critical to determining whether ex situ options could be effective, it was also recommended that whenever opportunities to handle animals arise (e.g. during rescues of stranded Ganges and Indus river dolphins or tagging studies), relevant information and data should be collected (e.g. on health parameters and blood values).
- implementing the One Plan approach for several species as soon as possible. These initial plans can demonstrate the potential to decrease the risk of extinction by ensuring that the best balance between in situ and ex situ management is used, and to preserve and restore habitat and maintain or restore healthy in situ
Following the Nuremburg workshop, a group of the workshop organizers and participants created an initiative within the Cetacean Specialist Group, Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans (ICPC) . The ICPC team has begun the work of developing an action plan for each of the most threatened dolphin and porpoise species and populations, prioritized by their conservation status, the imminence of catastrophic decline, and the potential for effective mitigation. Its initial focus is on four high-priority projects identified at the Nuremburg workshop report:
- Atlantic humpback dolphins in Africa are suffering from multiple pressures, the impacts of which are not fully understood. Community-based research was recommended to fill knowledge gaps on animal abundance, geographic distribution, and threats to the species’ survival. This crucial information will help to inform future integrated conservation efforts. https://www.cms.int/es/node/5068
- Yangtze finless porpoises in China are struggling to survive due to many human-induced stressors including accidental deaths in fishing gear, sand mining, environmental pollution, vessel traffic, and overfishing. In an effort to assess the ongoing integrated conservation program for this subspecies as a model for other dolphins and porpoises, a program review within the framework of the One Plan approach is
- Franciscana dolphins in Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina are dying in gillnets in large numbers. Recommendations for this species include conducting health assessments of live adult dolphins, and improving the care of orphaned franciscana calves found stranded on beaches.
- Indus and Ganges river dolphins in Pakistan and India become trapped and often die in irrigation canals. Efforts will focus on strengthening the animal handling and veterinary capacity of local researchers to conduct health assessments on rescued animals.
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