In 1946, the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling authorized the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to designate sanctuaries that prohibit commercial or aboriginal subsistence whaling (1, 2). A sanctuary operated in the South Pacif ic sector of the Southern Ocean between 1938 and 1955. Since then, the Indian Ocean Sanctuary was adopted in 1979 and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary (SOS) in 1994 (1). These sanctuaries constitute the world’s largest marine protected areas (see the figure, this page). Early IWC sanctuaries were emergency measures enacted to protect overexploited stocks while other measures were implemented. More recently, the establishment of IWC sanctuaries has been criticized as a political, rather than scientific, means to exclude commercial whaling from large areas of the ocean. Critics view the sanctuaries as a way to preempt the potential adoption of the Revised Management Procedure (RMP), a science-based harvest framework within the broader Revised Management Scheme (RMS) that is intended to replace the current global moratorium on commercial whaling (3). In response to these criticisms, the IWC adopted three scientific objectives in 1998 (4). Sanctuaries were charged with promoting the recovery of whale stocks, including the establishment of appropriate monitoring of depleted populations. The effects of zero catch limits on whale stocks were to be assessed. Research was mandated on the effects of environmental change on whale populations. In 2003, the IWC directed the Scientific Committee to undertake a decadal (1994–2004) review of the SOS.
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