The Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP), convened by the IUCN in 2004, identified a number of potential threats to western gray whales throughout their range. The ISRP called for a comprehensive, international strategy (including science) to conserve this whale population. The 2005 Lenders’ Workshop in Vancouver also raised the issue of the need for a long-term, comprehensive, international strategy for the recovery and conservation of the western gray whale population. It noted that such a strategy should address not only oil and gas operations, but also other factors that threaten the long-term persistence of the population.

IUCN has been working with Sakhalin Energy Investment Company on issues associated with western gray whale conservation since 2004. In October 2006, IUCN convened a long-term independent scientific advisory panel (WGWAP) to provide advice, primarily at present to Sakhalin Energy, on how to minimize and mitigate the impact of its Sakhalin II operations on gray whales in the vicinity of Sakhalin Island. While this panel process represents a valuable contribution to the conservation of western gray whales, its remit is limited largely to oil and gas activities on the Sakhalin shelf, which are not the only factors affecting the western gray whale population’s recovery prospects. Particularly in light of the deaths of western gray whales in fishing gear off Japan, IUCN is eager to widen the current conservation initiative to encompass other areas and other types of human activity besides oil and gas development in Russia that threaten this population.

IUCN Resolution 3.077, adopted at the 2004 World Conservation Congress in Bangkok, calls upon the Director General of IUCN to promote the protection of western gray whales throughout their range. Further, it urges all range state governments to develop and implement their own national action plans for the conservation of western gray whales and their habitat.

IUCN is intending to develop a comprehensive conservation management strategy with the goal of addressing the full range of threats within the entire range of the western gray whale population. Such a strategy should address inter alia:

  • What are the threats to the population throughout its range? This will include consideration of both known and potential threats and the degree to which they are documented and understood.
  • How should the threats be prioritised? A number of approaches are possible. For example, the highest priority might be assigned to threats that are most immediate and severe, those that are well understood, or those that are most amenable to management intervention or some combination of the above.
  • What measures are available to eliminate or mitigate identified threats? Account will be taken of feasibility, effectiveness and sustainability of such measures.
  • How can the relevant stakeholders become engaged, or more engaged than they have been? This might include domestic actions at the local or national level as well as participation in regional or international processes.

As a first step in the development of the conservation management strategy, IUCN convened a scientific and technical workshop to consider a range of scientific issues related to the conservation of the western gray whale population. The workshop was held in Tokyo in September 2008 and its report is available here.

The workshop agreed that the next step in the process is the development of a rangewide conservation plan for western gray whales and established a steering group to oversee the drafting of the plan.

In June 2010, the first full draft of the WGW Conservation Plan was presented at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee meeting and at the IWC Conservation Committee meeting. The WGW Conservation Plan was praised as exemplary for this type of action plan by both committees. The most critical and urgent action is the actual implementation of the WGW Conservation Plan (see action CORD-01 of the Plan). Funding must be found for this action at the earliest opportunity to appoint a Co-ordinator and set up the Steering Group to ensure that the Conservation Plan moves ahead in a timely fashion.