Over the past century international conservation governance has had to adapt to an increasingly complex set of threats, and this trend only promises to accelerate with global climate change. The outpacing of biodiversity policy by threats occurs in two ways. First, prolonged negotiations forestall addressing threats in a timely fashion and often lead to time lags that make correction all the more costly and less likely. Second, the split between legal primacy over a threat (recognized ability to enact and enforce regulation) and competency over a threat (mandate to address a threat) requires policies to cooperate or else leave threats unaddressed. In this essay illustrate these issues with a series of policy case studies relevant to the conservation of large marine mammals (whales, seals, polar bears, and sirenians) over the past 100 years. The characteristics of these policies reflect on general trends in international biodiversity governance and illustrate the outpacing of policy by threats.