• Monitoring & Protecting Our Oceans

At the heart of ORCA’s work is the monitoring and protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

ORCA’s research work

Our research helps us to identify important whale and dolphin habitats using “platforms of opportunity” including ferries and cruise ships. This hard work is done by volunteers who have been trained as ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors and Wildlife Officers. Without their dedication none of this would be possible.

The importance of monitoring

The ocean is vast and studying it is a challenge, which means that conservation at sea is decades behind the land.

Many of the whale, dolphin and porpoise species around the world are considered to be “data deficient”, which means we don’t even know how much they are under threat. Whales and dolphins are also at the top of the food chain, they are great indicators of the general health of our oceans and internal ecosystems.

It is critical that we learn more about our whales and dolphins in order to understand their way of life, where they breed, feed and travel. This will mean we can find ways to protect them against the deadly threats that they face every day and help us to protect them for future generations.

Where we monitor

Most of our work takes place in UK & European waters, but we also work in other oceans across the world.

We are currently collecting information on whales, dolphins and porpoises from ferry and cruise surveys in nine main areas; English Channel, Celtic Seas, Irish Sea, Minches and West Scotland, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast, North Sea, Arctic Waters, Wider Atlantic, and the Mediterranean.

How we monitor

Trained volunteers travel on ferries and cruise ships, collecting sightings of marine mammals using our scientific protocol.

The team is usually made up of 3 to 4 surveyors who are based on the bridge of a ship and record the animals that they see during the trip.

We have been collecting this data since 2006, and now that we have over ten years’ worth of research we are publishing an annual report called ‘The State of European Cetaceans’, with the first released in 2016. The report shows how important citizen science data is, giving us an understanding of the range, distribution and density of many of the species seen in Europe. Our work is also important as it can help shape government policy in and around the UK to protect these wonderful animals.

To help our monitoring process we have also teamed up with universities around the UK so that the data we have collected can be used in cutting edge research. For example, recently we have been working on the issue of ships striking large whales in the Bay of Biscay and exploring what physical features (e.g. waves, temperature, depth, etc) affect our waters.

ORCA Survey Network Routes

Select a tab to view the route map:

  • ORCA survey ferry routes

    ORCA Ferry Routes

  • ORCA survey cruise routes

    ORCA Cruise Routes

European Cetacean Monitoring Coalition

ORCA is currently working at the forefront of European Cetacean Monitoring Coalition (ECMC), which aims to create a single source of sightings in European waters. It is a coalition of not for profit organisations across various European countries, all working to improve the long term prospects of Europe’s diverse species of whale, dolphin and porpoise.

ECMC achievements have so far included:

  • The creation of an online portal to allow the upload of sightings to a central database.
  • The development of a dictionary to help different organisations to collect data consistently.
The State of European Cetaceans

The State of European Cetaceans

Monitoring & Protecting Our Oceans

Monitoring & Protecting Our Oceans

Saving Large Whales From Ship Strike

Saving Large Whales From Ship Strike

Threats to Cetaceans

Threats to Cetaceans

Inspiring & Educating People

Inspiring & Educating People

ORCA OceanWatch

ORCA OceanWatch