The State of European Cetaceans Report

The State of European Cetaceans is a series of reports based on ORCA’s citizen science, documenting the results of its survey findings, and drawing conclusions about what the results mean 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 second report in the series, ‘The State of European Cetaceans 2017’, builds on the work of the first edition by exploring new data alongside a more detailed analysis of specific habitats and species observations from across ORCA’s dataset.

The report adds data from ORCA’s 2016 surveys into its analysis, giving a richer picture of how population and distribution of European cetaceans might be changing. It also explores the key threats facing cetaceans in Europe, as well as conducting a detailed analysis of ORCA’s data on common dolphin in the Celtic Seas, Bay of Biscay and English Channel.

The State of European Cetaceans 2017 is the culmination of a huge amount of hard work and dedication from ORCA volunteers and supporters, and we want to thank everyone who have contributed to making it a reality.

Download the report [PDF]


2016 a record breaking year

2016 saw a record number of cetacean encounters for ORCA teams, with 1,780 encounters totalling 7,572 individual animals throughout the year. This new landmark for our ferry and cruise surveys shows the growing presence ORCA has across European waters and the increasing impact the charity’s work is having in the region.

Citizen science has a critical role to play in marine conservation

This edition of the report includes a detailed analysis of common dolphin data collected by ORCA between 2005 – 2016 in response to the increased levels of common dolphin mortality from bycatch. This analysis, conducted in conjunction with Plymouth University, aimed to establish if there were significant changes to the density around the UK and to create a valuable baseline for future monitoring of common dolphin populations.

The analysis was compared to the Small Cetaceans in European Atlantic Waters and the North Sea (SCANS) III survey from July 2016, with ORCA’s data supporting the findings of this pivotal piece of research for UK and European marine protection policy.

This landmark finding 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.

White-beaked dolphins common in the Celtic Seas

A record eight species were seen in the Celtic Seas in 2016. This included three species never before recorded by ORCA in the region. A humpback whale and orca were seen on the Isles of Scilly route in March and June respectively, whilst white-beaked dolphins were seen on 10 separate occasions during July. White-beaked dolphins were common in 2016; it was the first time that ORCA have recorded white-beaked dolphins in the Irish Sea, and there were also frequent sightings of this species in the Minches and West Scotland.

Threats to cetaceans still critical despite diverse population

Though some many 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.

Thank you to our volunteer surveyors

ORCA volunteers have freely given their time and effort to generate the citizen science which is the foundation of this report. They have all done so with the selfless objective of creating a more complete picture of our whales, dolphins and porpoises, so that they can be afforded greater protection and conservation where this is required. One of the notable findings of their research has been the fluid and transitory nature of whale and dolphin populations, in terms of geography, the seasons, location of prey species and so on.

We anticipate just as much change and movement in the future, and look forward to welcoming new generations of volunteers to map the mercurial habits and life cycles of these mysterious animals.

A very special thank you

This report would not have been possible without the support of Plymouth University.

Share your views on social media

How do you think we can we take this data forward?  What should those in power be doing to protect our whales, dolphins and porpoises more?  Let us know:

 @ORCAweb           #SOEC

Download the report [PDF]

Download the 2016 report [PDF]