The State of European Cetaceans is ORCA's report series, documenting the results of its survey findings, and more importantly, drawing conclusions about what this means for whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild.
With significant and emerging threats continuing to adversely impact these animals and their habitats, ORCA's findings are crucial in providing evidence to conserve these animals in the future.
ORCA's third report, 'The State of European Cetaceans (2018)', is the culmination of 12 years’ worth of sightings and environmental data collected during the 467 ORCA surveys conducted between 2006-2017 using vessels of opportunity (namely ferries and cruise ships).
This report summarises the distribution and range of cetacean populations in and around Europe’s waters and identifies marine areas and species that are of greatest importance. This insight is crucial to make authoritative and informed decisions about the protection required for cetaceans.
These reports are produced by ORCA each year and are based on marine survey data collected by its volunteer network of Marine Mammal Surveyors from 2006 to present day.
2017 saw a record amount of survey effort and number of cetacean sightings, with 13,818 animals being recorded.
The growing presence of ORCA across European and adjacent waters is evident, with the charity’s work having more impact than ever before.
The report validates the role citizen science has to play in supporting and enhancing wider cetacean research, and demonstrates that volunteers using platforms of opportunity can gather long-term data within smaller areas to show spatial and temporal trends not picked up by more dedicated, but less frequent, surveys conducted once a decade.
This edition of the report includes a detailed analysis of harbour porpoise data collected by ORCA between 2006 – 2017 in response to the on-going threat from bycatch and the designation of associated areas of conservation which require appropriate data on animal distribution to be effective.
This analysis, conducted in conjunction with Plymouth University, aimed to establish if there were significant changes to the density around the UK. This data presents a valuable baseline for future monitoring of harbour porpoise populations, and highlights areas of relative importance across their distribution. The findings of this pivotal piece of research will inform UK and European marine protection policies and future research.
This report continues to demonstrate why ongoing regular monitoring of cetaceans is vital. The compilation and analysis of real-time, long-term data are essential to make effective and informed decisions about the protection of our whales and dolphins so urgently need. Utilising ferry and cruise platforms is a highly effective tool to estimate density, distribution and range of these animals in near real-time so that worrying patterns can be identified early.
Though some may interpret this report as an indication of a thriving population of diverse species of cetaceans in Europe, there are still critical threats continuing to impact their numbers. Bycatch is responsible for an unprecedented number of deaths, with 1,500 porpoises killed in UK fishing nets in 2015 alone, whilst ship strike is of serious concern to fin whale populations having already decimated north Atlantic right whale numbers. Whaling continues to present a clear and present danger despite the global ban, and although public awareness of plastics and pollution being higher than ever, cetaceans are still falling victim with alarming frequency.
ORCA’s work cannot live in isolation and it is incumbent on all, including industry and government, to do their part to help protect our wonderful whales and dolphins and safeguard their habitats for future generations.
ORCA continues to play a critical role - quietly and unassumingly - in efforts to care for whales, dolphins and porpoises in European waters.
I still marvel at the way it so successfully relies on an outstanding and tireless army of trained volunteers: people, from all walks of life and of all ages, who give their time to make a real difference. Quite simply, they get the job done. The world would certainly be a poorer place without them.