Protecting Marine Mammals in the UK and Abroad is a report published by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in June 2023. It examines the status, threats and conservation of marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals in the UK and around the world. It also evaluates the UK policy and legislative framework for marine mammal protection and the role of the UK government in promoting international cooperation on this issue.
The report highlights the importance of marine mammals for maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem, as well as their cultural and economic value. It also warns that many marine mammal species and populations are facing increasing pressures from human activities such as bycatch, hunting, noise, vessel strikes, climate change and pollution. It calls for more data and monitoring to inform effective policy responses and urges the government to adopt a precautionary principle approach to marine mammal conservation.
The report makes several recommendations, including:
- The government should launch a new initiative specifically to encourage the development of new technological solutions to marine mammal monitoring, with ring-fenced funding that at least matches the existing £1.5m Marine Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment innovation competition.
- The government should bring forward primary legislation on marine mammal protection, following the example of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, and close the loopholes that allow intentional or reckless disturbance of seals and transit of cetacean products through UK ports.
- The government should introduce mandatory bycatch monitoring for all fishing vessels, phased in over several years, with an action plan to achieve this by December 20237. It should also support the Bycatch Mitigation Initiative and ensure it is aligned with the Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy.
- The government should raise issues of marine mammal welfare with countries that still engage in hunting, such as Iceland, Norway, Japan and the Faroe Islands, whenever bilateral and/or multilateral talks are taking place. It should also not agree any new trade deal that does not include a specific commitment to marine mammal conservation.
The report was produced following an inquiry launched by the committee on 29 April 2022, with terms of reference covering the status, threats, global protections and UK role in relation to marine mammals. The inquiry focused mainly on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), but also considered pinnipeds (seals and walruses) and sirenians (manatees and dugongs). The committee received over 30 pieces of written evidence and held oral evidence sessions with conservation specialists, scientists, campaigners, and ministers and officials from Defra and FCDO.
The report was published amid growing concerns about the global biodiversity crisis and the decline of many marine mammal species and populations. It also coincided with several events that drew attention to marine mammal issues, such as the mass killing of over 1400 dolphins in the Faroe Islands in September 2021; the discovery of a new critically endangered whale species (Rice’s whale) in 2021; and the publication of new scientific research suggesting that whales can combat climate change by capturing carbon.