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MPs examine protecting whales and other marine mammals

29 April 2022

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee launches inquiry issues affecting marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises. The investigation by the Committee, which scrutinises the work of the government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will cover marine mammals in UK waters and worldwide.

The aim is better to understand the role that the UK can play in protecting these creatures.

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are a group of marine mammals collectively known as cetaceans. During the 19th and 20th centuries many cetacean populations collapsed due to over-hunting.

A moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales was introduced in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission. The recovery from near extinction of some whale populations, such as humpback whales, is considered a major conservation success story. However, some other populations, such as North Atlantic Right Whales remain critically endangered.

Despite the 1986 moratorium some counties such as Canada, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, and the United States continue to hunt whales.

There are several reasons advanced for this, from respecting traditional indigenous practices to commercial and scientific arguments. In February 2022 Iceland signalled that it aims to ban commercial whaling by 2024.
Beyond whaling there are several human-made hazards that threaten marine mammal populations. These include ocean noise, bycatch (where mammals are inadvertently caught by fishers), ship collision, pollution, climate change and other forms of habitat degradation.

Furthermore, there have been reports that the number of cetacean ‘strandings’ (on land) is on the rise. The causes of these strandings are unclear, including any possible human causes.

Other marine mammal populations such as seals, manatees and dugongs are also thought to be affected by these human-made hazards.

The Committee is seeking views in the following areas, which make up the terms of reference for the inquiry:

  1. What is the status of marine mammal populations?;
  2. How, and for what purpose, are marine mammals being killed?;
  3. Beyond whaling, what human behaviours are affecting whale populations and how?;
  4. How effective are the global protections of marine mammals?;
  5. How can the UK better protect marine mammals?; and
  6. What role can the UK Government play to protect and promote the conservation of marine mammals internationally?

The Committee welcomes evidence to inform its inquiry from a wide range of people including experts, stakeholders, government leaders and officials.

For general information on how to submit written information to us, and how we then use that information, please click here. To make a submission on this inquiry and for full details about it, see the Marine mammals inquiry page.

The closing date for submissions of written evidence is Friday 27 May at 2359 HRS BST.

Other information will be sought by the Committee through inviting witnesses to our oral evidence sessions held in Parliament’s Committee Rooms. In general, most evidence sessions are held in public, are announced in advance and can be watched on

Further information

Image: Walter Baxter/Creative Commons Licensed