Regulation for the protection of cetaceans

in the Agoa Sanctuary

The Agoa Sanctuary, like the protection of marine mammals in general, is part of a complex legal context going from the international to the local level.

The French legal framework of cetaceans protection

All species of marine mammals found in waters under French jurisdiction are protected.

The first existing national regulation for the benefit of marine mammals dates back to 1970 (decree of October 20, 1970) and prohibits the capture and destruction of dolphins. The decree of July 27, 1995 establishes the list of marine mammals protected on the national territory. These two orders were repealed on July 1, 2011 and replaced by a ministerial order (amended in September 2020).

This decree confirms the prohibition of the destruction, mutilation and capture of cetacean and sirenian species on the national territory, and in marine waters under sovereignty and jurisdiction, at all times, and specifies the conditions of approach.

  • It prohibits intentional disturbance, including approaching animals closer than a distance of 100 meters in marine protected areas, and pursuing or harassing animals in their natural environment (Article 2-I).
  • It also protects habitats by prohibiting the destruction, alteration or degradation of breeding and resting grounds of the animals (Article 2-II).
  • Finally, the possession, transport, naturalisation, peddling, sale, offering for sale or purchase, and commercial or non-commercial use of marine mammal specimens taken from the natural environment are prohibited.

Find out about the 1 July 2011 Decree (in French).

exercices en mer

Des exercices de communication entre bateaux ont été effectués.

Amandine Escarguel / Office français de la biodiversité

Des exercices de communication entre bateaux ont été effectués.

Amandine Escarguel / Office français de la biodiversité

The regulation protecting marine mammals in the Agoa Sanctuary

At the local level, an order issued by the Government Delegate for the Action of the State at Sea confirms the national legal framework by restricting a little more the approach of cetaceans in the waters under French jurisdiction in the West Indies.


In the exclusive economic zones of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barthélemy, the approach of marine mammals is prohibited within 300 meters for persons, vessels and devices with or without persons on board. This applies to the surface of the sea, but also under the surface of the sea (scuba divers for example) and above the surface of the sea (drones for example).

The decree nevertheless indicates that specific authorisations may be granted by the Sea Directorate in the framework of defined nautical events. The persons, devices or vessels then authorised to approach within the 300 to 100 meters zone around cetaceans must however comply with the approach recommendations formulated by the Agoa Sanctuary. In order to pass on its recommendations, the Agoa Sanctuary provided a comprehensive training for whale watching professionals in 2022.

The legal framework for the protection of cetaceans in the Caribbean

The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Greater Caribbean Region, known as the Cartagena Convention, is the only legally binding regional environmental agreement.

Three protocols deal with biodiversity and implement the Convention. The SPAW (Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife) Protocol aims to protect the areas and all the marine mammal species present in the region. Within this framework, an action plan for the conservation of marine mammals (PAMM) has been adopted.

Orque (orcinus orca) et son petit.

Une orque (orcinus orca) et son petit.

Jeanne Wagner

Une orque (orcinus orca) et son petit.

Jeanne Wagner

Objectives of the action plan

Adopted in September 2008, this five-year plan includes 10 key objectives, including the protection of key sites and areas for marine mammals and the ecological connections between these areas:

  • better manage interactions with fisheries
  • assess and prevent habitat degradation
  • diagnose and fight against the impacts of pollutants and contaminants on marine mammals
  • strengthen research and knowledge and share data and results
  • encourage and supervise the observation of marine mammals in their natural environment
  • strengthen the capacity to respond to marine mammal strandings and the use of data collected
  • develop standards for the capture and maintenance of animals in captivity
  • evaluate and limit the impacts of acoustic disturbances
  • evaluate the extent of ship collisions and reduce their frequency and severity
  • improve understanding of the impacts of climate change on marine mammals

The Agoa Sanctuary works closely with SPAW-RAC, the Regional Activity Centre for the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol of the Greater Caribbean Region. SPAW-RAC is in charge of implementing the SPAW Protocol in the Greater Caribbean Region.

The international legal framework of marine mammals protection

Numerous marine mammal species are protected by international conventions. The two principal conventions concerning marine mammals are the Bonn and Washington Conventions.

The Bonn Convention

The Bonn Convention, known as CMS, meaning the Conservation of Migratory Species, pertains to protecting migratory species of wild animals. It was adopted in 1979, entered into force in 1983 and was ratified by France in 1990.

The migratory species covered by the convention are grouped in two appendices.

Appendix I covers migratory species in danger of extinction. Parties that are a Range State for a migratory species listed in Appendix I shall endeavour:

To conserve and where appropriate restore their habitats, which are essentials in removing the species from the danger of extinction,

To prevent, remove or compensate or mitigate the negative effects of activities or obstacles to their migration and control other factors that might make migration impossible,

To prohibit the taking of animals belonging to such species.

Appendix II covers migratory species that have an unfavourable conservation status. Protection actions of these species may significantly benefit from international cooperation.

See the text of the Convention for further details.

The Washington Convention

The Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, more commonly known as CITES, entered into force in 1975, aims at monitoring the international trade of specimens of wild animals and plants, so that the survival of the species it belongs to is not threatened.

The species listed in Appendix 1 of this convention are the most endangered among the animals and plants covered by CITES. Being endangered, CITES prohibits their international trade except when the import is not for commercial purposes but, for example, for scientific research. In these exceptional cases, transactions can take place provided they are authorised through the issuance of an import permit and an export permit (or re-export certificate).

See Appendix 1 of CITES for further details.

International Whaling Commission

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling is a major player at the international level. Its objectives are the conservation of whale populations and the sustainable development of the whaling industry.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was created by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling at the end of the Second World War. In 1982, a ban on whaling was adopted by the majority of IWC members. Only baleen whales are covered by these regulations and international agreements relating to the exploitation of these species.

Learn more about the IWC.