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 report, executive summary (in English, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish) and a press release announcing the main recommendations are all available for download.


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


Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans


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:


  1. 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.


  1. 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


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


Resources and Downloads:

Nuremberg Workshop Full IUCN Occasional Paper Report

Nuremberg Workshop Executive Summary

Nuremberg Workshop Press Release

New ‘Important Marine Mammal Areas’ Identified


A total of 158 Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) have now been identified by the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force. The process of identifying such sites has now been conducted for more than a third of the world’s ocean area, including the Indian Ocean, South Pacific, Mediterranean Sea and Southern Ocean as well as SE Asia waters.


The IMMAs, candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs) and Areas of Interest (AoIs) are displayed online on the IMMA e-Atlas. A searchable database allows for targeted searching for IMMAs by name, country (EEZ) or marine mammal species. Also it is possible to download the spatial GIS layers of all IMMAs from the website.


The Task Force plans to organise a workshop to identify IMMAs in the southeastern temperate and tropical Pacific Ocean in the near future.


Evaluation of Vessel Traffic in IMMAs

A new report was just released that features an analysis of vessel traffic in 114 IMMAs around the world. This is the result of a collaboration between WWF, the IUCN MMPATF, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and Oceanmind.

The report features detailed information for each of the 114 individual IMMAs identified as of September 2019, including:

  • Tables and graphs breaking down monthly densities of vessel traffic, per vessel category, based on unique vessels in each IMMA; and
  • ‘Heat maps’ for each IMMA based on the density of AIS signals transmitted by all vessels in the specific IMMA over the course of the year.

The report also includes a table ranking the top 10 IMMAs in terms of the risk of ship strike and the risk of cetacean bycatch based on the AIS data, and two case studies (the Mascarene Islands and the Savu Sea) that examine in greater detail the patterns of vessel traffic in relation to the occurrence of cetaceans.


The final report can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking on the links below:

IUCN Letter expressing concern regarding the impact of the Panay-Guimaras-Negros Bridges Project on Critically Endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Philippines


In late August 2020, Bruno Oberle, Director General of IUCN, and Jon Paul Rodriguez, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, signed a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Manila, Philippines expressing concern about the likely impacts of the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros Bridges project on the Critically Endangered population of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Guimaras and Iloilo Straits.


Abundance of this population is estimated as only 10-30 individuals (Dolar et al. 2018). The proposed entrances onto and exits from the bridge are in areas with relatively high densities of dolphins, and it is feared that the construction and operation noise will degrade this Important Marine Mammal Area.


To read the letter in full, click here.