IWDG Proposes a Pan-European Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary

7th Jun 2012

On 7 June 1991, the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey declared Ireland a Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in recognition of the importance of Irish waters “for these magnificent creatures”.

The Sanctuary Declaration was unique in Europe and no EU Member State had made such an unequivocal statement about the importance of their waters for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoise).  The Sanctuary Declaration had a number of important precedents, it covered the Irish EEZ which extends up to 200 nmls (350km) offshore and acknowledged the importance of habitat protection.

Although no additional legislation was enacted to support the Sanctuary Declaration as the existing legal framework was considered appropriate, it did raise awareness and interest in cetaceans in Ireland and ultimately led to increase research and knowledge which has led to conservation actions.

The Sanctuary Declaration led to a clearer understanding of the responsibility Ireland had to cetaceans and their habitat including in offshore waters. The Sanctuary Declaration was a precursor to action leading to protection in Irish waters and thus the IWDG consider the Sanctuary Declaration a success.

A part of the 21st Anniversary celebrations of the Sanctuary Declaration, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are proposing the extension of this sanctuary concept throughout European waters to create a European Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary.
There are a number of small marine protected areas in Europe for cetaceans including harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphins and some international sanctuaries such as the Pelagos Sanctuary in the Mediterranean. These areas all have important roles to play but cetaceans are mobile marine species and travel large distances. Also to gain public support for cetacean conservation it may require a larger, more simple concept.

Bottlenose dolphin aerial acrobatics off Bray, 26/0911© Justin Ivory

This proposal has been endorsed by the Environmental Pillar and we have held informal discussions with partners throughout Europe. The IWDG will promote this concept within Europe and encourage like-minded people and organisations to lobby their own government to make such a clear and unequivocal statement on cetacean conservation. Action requires political will which needs engagement by the public.

The IWDG feel a campaign to promote a pan-European Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary will help to place cetaceans, and the threats they face, on the political agenda leading to the delivery of effective conservation policies.


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