ASCOBANS is an acronym which stands for “Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas”. Over twenty years ago, several northern European countries decided to get together and signed an Agreement to improve the protection of small cetaceans in parts of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. In 2008, the ASCOBANS Agreement was extended to include all small cetaceans living in the North East Atlantic and Irish Seas. Today, 10 countries are members of ASCOBANS: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Other countries in the area, such as Spain, Portugal and Norway have still got to sign the Agreement.

There are many reasons why International Agreements between countries are very important for the conservation of small cetaceans. Whales, dolphins and porpoises are migratory animals; this means that they don’t always stay in the same place for their whole lives. They travel across the oceans and often cross a country’s national borders. If only one country protected them, and they were hunted in all other countries they visit, the effort of the first country would be useless! For this reason, all countries bordering their habitat need to agree on the protection of small cetaceans.

An important threat to many marine mammals is fishery. ASCOBANS promotes the use of devices that make small cetaceans to swim away from the fishing boats, making it easier for them to evade the nets. ASCOBANS is not only an agreement to protect the animals, but also a platform for nations to discuss the best options for conservation and how to raise awareness for their conservation.