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New Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel agrees on way forward

Western Gray Whale.jpg

Decisions on how to tackle oil spill prevention and response and the way ahead with a photographic identification progamme for the Western Gray Whale are amongst the outcomes of the first meeting of the new Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel and Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, which was convened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) recently.

The new panel will continue to advise Sakhalin Energy on the impacts of the Sakhalin II offshore oil and gas development in the Russian Far East on the critically endangered Western Gray Whale population. The area serves as the summer feeding ground of the Western Gray Whale population. However, IUCN is also keen to see other oil and gas companies working in the region, participate in this new process.

IUCN has been working with Sakhalin Energy on Western Gray Whale conservation for more than two years. The Union has convened two previous scientific panels that provided advice to Sakhalin Energy on how to minimize the impact of its operations on the local whale population. The most recent meeting kick-started the new long-term scientific advisory panel, which will take a more proactive approach than previous panels.

"The meeting was a good start to a very challenging process. However, quite a number of issues - of methodology, outlook, priorities, and interpretation of data and analyses - remain open," said Dr Randall Reeves, Chairman of the advisory panel.

Progress was achieved on whale monitoring and oil spill prevention and response issues. The panel agreed on the way ahead for a whale satellite tagging programme and how to merge two existing photographic catalogues of western gray whales. A first set of decisions was also taken on how to tackle the challenging issues related to oil spill prevention and response.

"Although the establishment of this panel is an important step in conserving this critically endangered whale population, the future of it is by no means assured. The panel provides an opportunity for business, governments and the conservation community to jointly work together for the conservation of this whale population," said Dr Julian Roberts of the IUCN Global Marine Programme.

"The meeting reinforced the value of stakeholder involvement in this process," said Reeves. "There is still a lot to do, but I was impressed by the hard work of the panel members and associated scientists, and gratified by their clear commitment to continue with the Western Gray Whale Adisory Panel process."

In addition to the panel members and representatives from Sakhalin Energy, the meeting was attended by IUCN and observers from financial institutions and environmental NGOs.


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