Greens: make Scottish seas a whale and dolphin sanctuary

For immediate release: Wednesday 20 April 2011

The Scottish Greens today launched a commitment to designate Scottish waters as a whale and dolphin sanctuary, to boost eco-tourism and help support Scottish coastal communities. The commitment comes on the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Greens are the only party in Holyrood to have supported a moratorium on deepwater drilling in Scottish waters.

The Greens' proposed cetacean sanctuary would cover all of Scotland's inshore and offshore waters out to the 200-mile territorial limit, and would introduce a presumption of protection for whales and dolphins while in those waters.

A Scottish cetacean sanctuary has been a long-term commitment from the Greens, who introduced an amendment in this area to last year's Scottish Marine Bill which was voted down by the other Holyrood parties.

Scotland has a number of resident populations of cetaceans in its waters, and Scottish waters are used by a large number of species as they migrate between feeding and breeding grounds each year. Cetacean species that are regularly sighted in Scottish waters include harbour porpoises; common, bottle-nosed, Risso's and Atlantic white-sided dolphins; and Minke and Killer Whales. Less common sightings also include humpback, fin and sperm whales. Unfortunately, many of these species find themselves hunted in other waters around the world.

Whales and dolphins are Scotland's number one wildlife tourist attraction and the potential for the Scottish industry is huge. In rural areas, whale and dolphin watching can provide as much as 12 per cent of local income, with wildlife tourism operators mostly being local people (72.4 per cent) and each operator supporting five or less full-time equivalent jobs (86.4 per cent).

The global whale watching industry is estimated to be worth US$2.1 billion, and enjoyed by over 13 million people in more than 119 countries each year.

Eleanor Scott, the Scottish Green Party's Co-convenor and top candidate in the Highlands and Islands region, said:

"Scottish waters provide one of the best whale-watching opportunities in Europe. The designation of the whole of Scotland's seas as a cetacean sanctuary would assist Scotland's growing whale and dolphin-watching businesses, and would provide much needed support for remote and coastal communities that rely on eco-tourism for much of their income and employment.

"This move would also send a strong message to the world's few remaining whaling nations that Scotland values and wants to protect the whales and dolphins that live in and migrate through its waters."

The Scottish Green's manifesto also states that the Party will push for Scottish representation on the International Whaling Commission (IWC), on which Scotland would oppose commercial whaling.

The Scottish Greens' proposal is supported by Andy Ottaway, Director of Campaign Whale, who said:

"Few people realise that the minke whales that swim through Scottish waters, where they are the focus of an ever-growing and economically-important whale-watching industry, fall victim to the cruel harpoons of Norwegian whalers. The Greens are to be applauded for championing the creation of a whale and dolphin sanctuary in Scottish waters."

The Scottish Greens' proposal is also supported by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Sarah Dolman, WDCS's Head of Policy for Scotland added:

"We welcome the idea of a cetacean sanctuary in Scottish waters. As an introduction to an ecosystem-based management approach in our oceans, it would highlight the international importance of Scotland's seas for more than twenty species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Many of these charismatic animals can be seen around our coasts, from the Firth of Forth to the Clyde, and they all deserve to be fully protected. Zoned areas of high protection for critical whale and dolphin habitat within the sanctuary, either as marine reserves or special marine zones, are also necessary."

Whales worldwide find themselves under a large number of threats, including direct hunting, chemical and oil pollution, coastal and offshore development, noise pollution, shipping and defence-related activity, loss of habitat and disruption to their feeding and breeding grounds. The impact of all of these threats together has had a significant negative effect on whale populations worldwide.