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January 20, 2018

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Secretariat of the Agreement on the
Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas, (UNEP/ASCOBANS)


Numerous species of small cetaceans live in European seas. These include dolphins, orcas, and harbour porpoises. The harbour porpoise is the most common species of small cetaceans in this area. It is the only species native to the Baltic Sea, where only a few hundred animals of the once numerous population are left. While these animals are not deliberately hunted in the area covered by ASCOBANS, they do nevertheless face a variety of threats due to human activities. These include habitat loss, marine pollution, acoustic disturbances from various sources and, most importantly, incidental catch in fishing nets, so-called bycatch.

Every year, thousands of animals get ensnared in fishing nets in the North Sea alone. Since many small cetaceans are migratory species, the threats endangering their survival can only be addressed by cooperation across borders. For this reason, the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS) was concluded under the auspices of CMS in 1991.

As at September 2011, ten range states have become Parties to ASCOBANS: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Further Range States are encouraged to accede.

In February 2008, an extension of the Agreement Area to cover the North East Atlantic and Irish Seas came into force, adding the waters of Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The name of the Agreement was changed accordingly, as indicated in the title above. All ASCOBANS Parties share the common concern that continuously high bycatch rates, habitat deterioration and other manmade disturbances are threatening the survival of viable populations of small cetaceans in European seas. The Agreement promotes cooperation among these Parties, but also with non-Party Range States, relevant international organisations, non-governmental organisations and other regional stakeholders in order to achieve and/or maintain a favourable conservation status for the species it covers.

Since January 2007, the Secretariat of ASCOBANS’ mother Convention CMS (Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals) has provided the Secretariat services for the Agreement. The joint Secretariat, administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is based in Bonn. It provides administrative support, gathers and distributes information relevant to the implementation of the Agreement and organizes, prepares and services the meetings of the Agreement’s decision-making and advisory bodies. It is also active in raising public awareness of the threats to these animals.

(Source: Common Information Space of the UN Organizations in Bonn)

UN Campus
Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1
53113 Bonn

Tel.: +49 228 - 81 52 41 6

e-mail address:


Last update: March 14, 2016



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