Since 2004, IUCN has worked with Sakhalin Energy – an oil and gas company with Gazprom, Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi as shareholders – and other actors to ensure the long-term conservation of the western gray whales.
The feeding areas near Sakhalin Island, off the Russian coast, just north of Japan – a region with large offshore oil and gas deposits, and active exploitation of other natural resources – are used by the whales every summer and are vital for maintenance of the population.
In response to the concerns raised by the conservation community, IUCN established a Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) to provide independent scientific advice and recommendations on how the company can minimize risks associated with its operations on gray whales and their habitat.
The core principles set down by IUCN for establishing and managing Independent Scientific & Technical Advisory Panel's are independence, transparency, accountability and engagement (see IUCN's Procedures, 2014).
Goal, scope and objectives
WGWAP is managed by IUCN with the overall goal of providing objective independent advice on the conservation of western gray whales with a focus on those that feed off Sakhalin.
The scope and objectives of the Panel and IUCN are explained in more detail in the WGWAP Terms of Reference.
Roles and responsibilities
WGWAP has been established to provide an independent review process and advice regarding the management of risks to western gray whales. Its main roles and responsibilities include to:
review all relevant information on the whales;
assess the biological and demographic state of the whales regularly;
provide scientific, technical and operational recommendations for the conservation and recovery of the whale population;
assess Sakhalin Energy’s research and monitoring activities, assessments, mitigation measures and offset plans for scientific rigour, adequacy and compliance with the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability;
review the effectiveness of mitigation measures and provide recommendations regarding modifications, alternatives or the need to develop new types of measures;
review and provide recommendations and advice on the initiation of new research and monitoring programmes;
cooperate with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee and others in providing scientific advice for the update and implementation of the IUCN/IWC Conservation Management Plan and Memorandum of Cooperation among Range States.
Focus in 2017-2018
During this period, the Panel will specifically focus on:
the Monitoring and Mitigation Programme update for Sakhalin Energy's next seismic survey;
the Sakhalin Energy’s implementation of the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability in relation to western gray whales and their habitat;
the Joint Western Gray Whale Annual Monitoring Programme;
the revision of Sakhalin Energy’s Marine Mammal Protection Plan; and
the IWC’s work on gray whale protection, including analyses of population structure, cumulative impacts of multiple threat factors assessment and whale interactions with fisheries.
The Panel includes 10 prominent scientists from Canada, Germany, Ireland, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States who, in combination, cover a broad range of scientific disciplines.
The Panel is co-chaired by Randall Reeves, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group nd Greg Donovan, IWC Head of Science.
IUCN convenes regular meetings between the Panel, Sakhalin Energy and other stakeholders. During WGWAP plenary meetings, the Panel receives and comments on information from Sakhalin Energy regarding the company’s activities that could have impacts on gray whales and their habitat. Participants in these meetings include company representatives and technical contractors, independent scientists, lenders’ representatives, as well as NGO, government and other observers – all of whom pose questions, provide information and make comments.
The Panel also establishes technical working groups, called Task Forces, for in-depth consideration of specific issues such as seismic surveys, noise, environmental monitoring, photo-identification and oil spills.
The Panel produces reports and formal recommendations, many relating to Sakhalin Energy’s activities and procedures. The company is required to consider every recommendation directed towards it and either implement the recommendation or explain why it considers the recommendation unreasonable.
All recommendations by the Panel are tracked in a publicly accessible recommendations database, which includes Sakhalin Energy’s response for each recommendation directed towards the company and the current status (e.g. whether the recommendation has been implemented, is in the process of being implemented, has become moot, has been rejected).