The western gray whale population is listed as endangered in the Russian Federation Red Data Book and as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List. Little is known about its breeding grounds or migration routes but the main feeding grounds lie off north-eastern Sakhalin Island, in the Russian Far East.
Particular concerns have been raised about the potential impacts of offshore oil and gas development on the Sakhalin Shelf. Therefore, since 2004, Sakhalin Energy, an oil and gas consortium consisting of Gazprom, Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi, has joined forces with IUCN to create a mechanism for helping the company minimize the potential impacts of its operations to the whale population.
Since 2004, IUCN has convened a series of independent scientific panels and in 2006, at the request of and with full financial support from Sakhalin Energy, IUCN convened a long-term Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) to advise the company directly and on regular basis in order to strengthen monitoring and mitigation efforts.
Is this panel model an effective way for business, scientists and the conservation community to work together to mitigate environmental impacts and/or achieve conservation goals? Those involved have hoped that the Panel process would serve as a model of how business, scientists and the conservation community can work constructively and non-confrontationally to address environmental controversies.
The Panel allows the exchange of information and opinion among stakeholders and provides scientifically rigorous, independent assessment. While Sakhalin Energy´s engagement with IUCN is extremely positive, a comprehensive conservation strategy is needed, which takes into account all significant threats, not only around Sakhalin Island but throughout the entire geographic range of this population. Broad engagement of the range states, relevant companies and civil society is needed for the population to survive and recover.