Cetaceans all at sea

New atlas reveals where to find whales and dolphins


August sees the eagerly anticipated publication of the collaborative venture that maps dispersion patterns of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the seas around the UK. Atlas of cetacean distribution in north-west Harbour porpoise©JNCCEuropean waters* depicts the distribution and abundance of the 28 species of cetaceans recorded in this part of the north-east Atlantic during the latter part of the 20th century. The JNCC's Seabirds and Cetaceans Team, the Sea Watch Foundation, the Sea Mammal Research Unit of the UK Natural Environment Research Council and St. Andrews University, and several sister organisations in mainland Europe, each contributed their long-term data-sets to a shared resource, the Joint Cetacean Database (JCD) which has been used in the production of this Atlas.
Overall, some 61,000 hours or 2500 days of observation, and 31,000 sightings of 138,000 individual cetaceans are represented in the JCD.
Following calibration analyses among the data-sets, unique distribution maps were generated that show not only where and in what relative abundance cetaceans occur in north-west European waters,but also the degree of survey effort associated with the sightings. Thisrepresents the first ever effort-related atlas of cetacean distribution to appear anywhere in the world, an important advance in that one possible source of error in defining the areas of occurrence of cetaceans has been minimised.
An excellent example of co-operation among many organisations, the atlas and the JCD will function as important tools in the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Europe. Indeed, the JCD is currently being deployed in support of the EC Habitats Directive in order to highlight areas within which possible Special Areas of Conservation might be classified for harbour porpoises. The currency of the JCD will be maintained by updating it and by recruiting new partners to the project.
*Reid, J.B., Evans, P.G.H. and Northridge, S.P. (2003). Atlas of cetacean distribution in north-west European waters.
Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
Available from the Natural History Book Service
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