Photo by Rodrigo Garcia Pingaro

Photo by Rodrigo Garcia Pingaro

Legal Rights for Uruguay’s Sanctuary for Whales and Dolphins

Organización para la Conservación de Cetaceos (OCC) and Earth Law Center (ELC) are partnering to establish legal rights for the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay’s territorial waters. The Sanctuary was established in 2013[1] and a management plan has not yet been created. It faces increasing threats from shipping traffic, pollution and non-sustainable fisheries.


The Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary (created by law 19.128 in 2013) is Uruguay's largest multi-use protected area. The campaign for legal rights is being promoted alongside the #OceanoSanos (#HealthyOceans) campaign that seeks to protect the country’s marine environment by promoting responsible fisheries and preventing Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Why Legal Rights? The Sanctuary serves as a platform to generate holistic and rights-based legal protection. The area can only be a sanctuary for whales and dolphins if these species are given legal rights and activities affecting the sanctuary are decided upon through a non-anthropocentric approach.

Legal Rights for the Sanctuary means:

  • Creating a sustainable relationship with the ecosystem and species within.
  • Making whale and dolphin protection a legal responsibility; notably the Southern Right Whale and the Franciscana dolphin, an IUCN Red List Species.
  • Reviewing activities such as port construction, fishing and vessel traffic for their impact on the sustainability of the Sanctuary.

Goals of the campaign

  • Establish legal rights for the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary through a legally-binding management plan.
  • Create a community- based management plan for the Sanctuary using a new holistic and rights-based framework.
  • Strengthen efforts to curtail illegal, unreported (IUU) and unregulated fishing fleets as well as uncontrolled by-catch (species IUCN Red List).
  • Cultivate young conservationists and community leadership throughout the region as “Sanctuary Guardians.”

Want to learn more? Partner with us? Or support our efforts?

Email Rodrigo García Píngaro at or Michelle Bender at and Visit or


About OCC:

OCC (Organisation for the Conservation of Cetaceans) is a small non-government organisation in Uruguay, South America, which focuses on marine conservation. In the last decade, OCC-Uruguay has identified the major threats to marine conservation along Uruguay’s Atlantic coast, and worked hard to establish both the legislative foundations, inter-institutional and public support necessary for change. Achievements include: promote a Decree for responsible whale watching (261/02) and a volunteer whale watching network to alert national coastguard officials where whales are threatened or stressed (avoiding ship-strikes); promote the installation of viewing platforms along the coast; establishing protocols of good practice marine and certification (together Ministries and National Marine).

One of the greatest achievements has been with younger, primary and secondary students, who have became passionate OCC advocates for protecting the ocean and marine life. In 2013, a delegation met face-to-face with parliamentarians to designate Uruguay’s territorial sea as a Sanctuary for Whales and Dolphins. OCC was also instrumental in Uruguay’s return to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after 22 years’ absence, integrating the official delegation and co-sponsorship for the wider South Atlantic Sanctuary for Whales and Dolphins.

OCC-Uruguay wants to build on these achievements, inspiring youth, civil society and local authorities to take pride in protecting the marine species and habitats of Uruguay’s Atlantic coast; while also giving those tools and guidelines on responsible and sustainable tourism for the country’s marine-coastal environment. OCC, using the art as a bridge, for greater public marine awareness, and securing political goodwill for Uruguay’s Sanctuary.

Visit OCC's website to learn more of their great work!