Monitoring our Oceans

Monitoring the whales and dolphins in our oceans is at the heart of ORCA’s work.

We work to identify critical whale and dolphin habitats in our waters and beyond from platforms of opportunity such as ferries and cruise ships. This work is all carried out by ORCA volunteers, without whom this work would not be possible. If you are interested in helping, see our volunteering pages.


The importance of monitoring

Marine conservation is decades behind land conservation, as there is a shocking lack of data about the species in our oceans. Half of whale, dolphin and porpoise species globally are considered to be “data deficient” by the IUCN red list, including several of the species in our waters, such as beaked whales and orcas.

It is vital that we learn more about our whales and dolphins in order to protect these fascinating animals. Not only is this important, but whales and dolphins are great indicators of the general health of our oceans and ecosystems.

Where we monitor

We carry out our monitoring effort throughout UK, European and adjoining waters. We are currently collecting information on whales, dolphins and porpoises from ferry surveys in the North Atlantic, English Channel, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and North Sea and cruise surveys as far afield as the Arctic Ocean, Mediterranean and Greenland Sea.

The map below shows the areas that we monitor in Europe on ferry and cruise surveys.  For more details on where else we survey and which seas and oceans are monitored, please visit our Volunteer page.

How is our data used?

The monitoring data collected by our volunteers is used by the UK government to help define the conservation status of whales, dolphins and porpoises in our waters.  ORCA's vital research helps the UK government meet its own monitoring requirements under Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive.  The data we collect is used to help develop important conservation projects for whales and dolphins, such as our Saving Large Whales project.  We publish details of cetacean sightings and conservation measures to all interested parties, including the public, as well as sharing it with universities for research projects.

In addition to this, ORCA survey data is also used by the UK Government, helping to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas; sea areas around the UK where human activity is restricted.  Details of cetacean sightings by ORCA volunteer Marine Mammal Surveyors are also shared with the global marine conservation community, thus influencing legislation, industry standards and conservation worldwide.  


European Cetacean Monitoring Coalition

ORCA currently co-leads the European Cetacean Monitoring Coalition (ECMC), which aims to establish a single, reliable source of cetacean sightings in European waters. The coalition is made of seven NGOs across four European countries. Its mission is to improve the long term conservation benefit for European cetaceans through the collection and dissemination of high quality research and supporting evidence.

ECMC achievements have so far included:

  • The establishment of an online data portal to enable the direct upload of cetacean sightings to a central database.
  • Development of a dictionary of standardised recording methodology.
  • Delivery of a workshop on ‘Exploring New Technologies in Data Capture’ at the European Cetacean Society meeting in Belgium in 2014.
  • Delivery of a workshop on 'Developing Analytical Protocols to assess trends in cetacean populations from structured surveillance data collected on ferries at the European Cetacean Society meeting in Malta 2015.

Find out more on the website:

ECMC Website