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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 11:51 GMT
Whales find Mediterranean sanctuary
dolphin Thirteen cetacean species live in the area for some part of the year

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The first whale sanctuary north of the equator has been established in the Mediterranean by the governments of Italy, Monaco and France.

The treaty setting up the sanctuary, signed by the three countries' environment ministers on 25 November, crowns a ten-year campaign by the World Wide Fund for Nature and other conservation groups.

The director-general of WWF International, Claude Martin, said: "This is the first time in the Northern Hemisphere that several countries have established a marine protected area which includes international waters".

The sanctuary, covering about 84,000 square kilometres, an area twice the size of Switzerland, lies between the French and Monegasque coasts, the Ligurian coast in Italy, and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

WWF says the area "plays a primary biological role in the Mediterranean. It is the most important feeding ground for a number of small and large cetaceans".

Committed to tackle pollution

Thirteen cetacean species live in the area for some part of the year, including fin, sperm and pilot whales, and four distinct dolphin species.

The treaty commits the signatories to co-ordinate their cetacean monitoring work and to intensify action against land-based and marine sources of pollution.

calf Conservationists say more sanctuaries are needed
While it welcomes the sanctuary's establishment, WWF says more action is needed to protect marine mammals, including limits on fishing and on unregulated tourist activities.

It says the sanctuary, although it concentrates on cetaceans, will also help many other species and will help to conserve the entire marine environment.

The International Whaling Commission has already established two southern hemisphere whale sanctuaries, one in the waters surrounding Antarctica and the other in the Indian Ocean.

'Scientific research'

Japan, one of two IWC members which continues to catch whales, refuses to recognise the existence of the Antarctic sanctuary.

Its vessels kill several hundred of the abundant Antarctic minke whales annually, in the name of scientific research, which is allowed under the IWC's rules.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society welcomed the creation of the Mediterranean sanctuary. A spokesman told BBC News Online: "It is important - it's an area of high productivity".

"There's a need for more collaboration between countries to study cetaceans and meet their conservation needs."

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See also:
03 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Australia urges global whale sanctuary
26 May 99 |  Sci/Tech
Whaling commission challenged to act

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