3 Updated Cetacean Red List Assessments Published in 2020 So Far


Assessments or reassessments of 3 cetacean species, subspecies or populations were published on the IUCN Red List in early 2020. This is in addition to the 6 published in December 2019, 2 published in July 2019, 5 published in March 2019, 35 published in November 2018, 10 in July 2018, and 19 in November 2017. A total of 80 updated or new cetacean assessments have now been published in the last 2 ½ years.


The updated assessments were of the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) which was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered, a new listing of the Gulf of Corinth subpopulation of Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) also Critically Endangered and an updated listing for the Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) which remains Least Concern (Table 1). Work on the remaining cetacean species that require updating, primarily the beaked whales, is near completion, and we expect most of them to be published in late 2020.


Table 1. Summary of updated assessments and new assessments published in the 2020-2 edition of the Red List. (NT = Near Threatened, DD = Data Deficient, CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, LC = Least Concern).

# Species/Subspecies Common name Taxonomic level Category Status change
1 Eubalaena glacialis North Atlantic Right Whale Species (global) CR EN -> CR
2 Delphinus delphis Common Dolphin, Gulf of Corinth Subpopulation CR New listing
3 Phocoena phocoena Harbour Porpoise Species (global) LC No change


The Red List status and documentation for 89 (of the 91 currently recognised) cetacean species as well as 42 subspecies or subpopulations can be found on the IUCN Red List website (redlist.org).  Of the 89 species, 30% are assigned to a threatened category (i.e., CR, EN, VU, NT) and 29% are considered DD (Table 2) although ongoing reassessments of Data Deficient species are likely to result in some of them being reclassified in the near future. It should also be emphasized that there is strong interest in completing additional assessments of subpopulations that are known or thought to be at higher risk than the species as a whole (e.g., Killer Whales, Belugas, Dusky Dolphins).


Table 2. Summary information on Red List status as of July 2020.

Category Species Subspecies/subpopulations Total
Critically Endangered 4 18 22
Endangered 9 11 20
Vulnerable 7 10 17
Near Threatened 7 0 7
Least Concern 36 0 36
Data Deficient 26 3 29
Total 89 42 131



Guidelines for safe handling and release of small cetaceans from fishing gear


Guidelines for safe handling and release of small cetaceans from fishing gear

The Convention on Migratory Species has announced the publication of CMS Technical Series No. 43 Guidelines for the safe and humane handling and release of bycaught small cetaceans from fishing gear. The Guidelines are available in English on the CMS website at www.cms.int/en/publications/technical-series. These guidelines were commissioned by WWF and developed in consultation with a wide range of experts affiliated with the IWC and CMS. They are intended for use in fisheries around the world, and include practical instruction cards that can be printed and laminated, as well as text providing the scientific underpinning for the practices that are recommended.

In 2018 WWF Peru and WWF Pakistan identified a need for these guidelines following observations of unsafe and harmful handling in releases of small cetaceans in fisheries in their national waters. WWF engaged in discussions with IWC, FAO, IOTC, CMS, ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS who all agreed that while detailed guides for sharks, turtles and seabirds had been produced by various organisations, only one set of illustrated cards was available for small cetaceans (produced by ACCOBAMS). It was decided that an expanded document providing the scientific justification and rationale for safe handling and release practices in a range of fisheries would be useful. The draft guidelines were completed in July 2019 and circulated to a range of experts on cetacean biology, bycatch, and strandings. More than 20 of those experts provided feedback used by Derek Hamer and Gianna Minton to edit and finalize the document.

To make the guidelines practical and accessible for fishing crews, the document has pages at the end, designed so that a common cover page with core principles applicable to practices in all types of fisheries and fishing gear can be combined with a fishery-specific flip page, with clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions relevant to that fishery. These can be printed and laminated for use on deck, or viewed in electronic format from a phone or tablet. The protocols cover hook-and-line, gillnet, purse seine, and trawl fishing at both artisanal and industrial scale.

Evidence of a Singular Cause of the Vaquita’s Steep Decline: Bycatch


A recently published paper provides etiological analyses of eight vaquita deaths in March and April 2016–2018. Nutritional state, lesions, biotoxins and levels of contaminants in fat were considered. Injuries to the seven vaquitas found dead (the eighth animal was the healthy adult female that died after being live-captured in November 2017) were consistent with entanglement in monofilament nets or ropes. The authors were able to exclude persistent organic pollutants and biotoxins as sources of mortality in this critically endangered species, and their findings reconfirm that incidental mortality in illegal fishing gear is the sole factor driving the vaquita ever-closer to extinction.