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The Background of the JCDP



JCDP Logo (Medium)

The Joint Cetacean Data Programme vision is to promote and facilitate cetacean data standardisation and maximise value through collation and enabling of universal access. This is achieved through the JCDP platform and tools developed to improve collection and accessibility of cetacean data.

JCDP Background

Across the north-east Atlantic, there are multiple sources of data for cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises). The JCDP builds on previous exercises where these data have been collated to make the best use of the available evidence base.

Widescale surveys such as Small Cetaceans in European Atlantic waters and the North Sea (SCANS) provide a vital snapshot of cetacean abundance and distribution at a scale relevant to their highly mobile nature. However, the long intervals between these surveys limit the ability to understand population trends, even for the most commonly recorded species.

There is also a substantial and growing resource from other sources of data gathered at different temporal and spatial scales by, for example, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), marine industry, and academic and regional government-funded projects. Independently, these datasets have limitations for analysis due to the confines of the data over time and space, but when combined along with widescale survey data, they provide an invaluable resource for a range of analyses to inform conservation and policy needs. 

Historically, collated datasets were licenced for use for the specific projects or analysis for which they were requested and cannot be used for future work without additional permission from the data owners or providers. There was a need to work with data providers in finding a solution to this barrier by storing these collated data in a standardised format long-term and making them available for continued use to improve the capacity for analysing and better understanding cetaceans in the northeast Atlantic.

Combining cetacean datasets from the existing evidence base has proven to be highly effective in enabling the assessment of cetacean populations across wide areas and appropriate time periods, increasing the value of these data. This has been demonstrated by data analysis exercises such as the JNCC-led Joint Cetacean Protocol and the Marine Ecosystems Research Programme. The identification of areas with persistent harbour porpoise density has been the basis for the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in the UK in recent years, based on the collated cetacean evidence base.

Addressing this need has been the driver behind the JCDP, which aims to provide a platform for collation, standardisation, storage, and access of cetacean data collected at sea via ship-based or aerial observer and digital surveys. It is a growing resource that will enable best use of all available comparable data from which to carry out analyses at relevant spatial and temporal scales to inform cetacean management, policy and conservation.


JCDP Vision and Aims

The JCDP vision:

To promote and facilitate cetacean data standardisation and maximise value through collation and enabling of universal access.


The JCDP aims to achieve this vision through:

  • Development of an international platform to host cetacean survey datasets from the north-east Atlantic.
  • Development of a data standard to guide data collection and storage to enable a high-quality collation of data.
  • Provision of regularly updated open access data products for use in strengthening cetacean science and subsequent decision-making.
  • Facilitating access to the collated dataset for use in bespoke analyses.


JCDP Evolution

Atlas of cetacean distribution in north-west European waters (2003)
A snapshot of the distribution of 28 cetacean species from the last 25 years, using collated data from multiple sources.
Joint Cetacean Protocol (JCP)
Between 2004 and 2016 the JCP aimed to use collated data to identify trends in distribution and relative abundance of cetacean species.
Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (MERP)
Between 2014 and 2018, as part of a larger project, MERP undertook an analysis of collated seabird and cetacean datasets from the north-east Atlantic.
Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP) Scoping (Phase 1)
Between 2019 and 2020 initial scoping for the Programme was carried out.
Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP) Development (Phase 2)
Between 2020 and 2022, the base package of resources and the data portal were developed
Joint Cetacean Data Programme Launch
June 2022 data portal launched and WGJCDP takes over management. The JCDP continues to be developed according to the needs of data providers and users.


Development of the JCDP

Development of the JCDP took place over three years: Phase one (2019–2020) focussed on scoping; Phase two (2020–2022) developed and delivered the data standard, data portal and associated resources. The JCDP is now in its operational phase and efforts are focussed on increasing data holdings and developing data products.


Phase One (2019–2020)


  1. Co-ordinate data protocols and submission requirements across cetacean data providers and data receivers, to enable collation in the JCDP: Cetacean data are collected using a variety of methods by different organisations and for a variety of purposes. Existing protocols were reviewed, and a draft Data Standard developed with input from stakeholders at the project workshop.
  2. Explore long-term data permissions and access protocols across data providers: A Data Policy has been developed to consider the needs for submission, storage and access to the data within the JCDP. 
  3. Scope and report on the options for continued collation and hosting/archiving of the cetacean database: A scoping exercise for the development and maintenance of the JCDP was carried out. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), was identified and selected to host the JCDP database and web portal.

Phase One of JCDP was completed in 2020 and the Phase One report outlines the approach for delivery of the objectives and summarises the outcomes.


Phase Two (2020–2022)


  1. Initiate plans to develop the JCDP with ICES: ICES were identified as the most suitable organisation to host the database due to their existing data centre and experience in developing and managing similar projects. ICES were contracted to design and build the database and associated portal, with guidance from the steering group
  2. Design and plan development of the cetacean platform (Hub and database Portal): JNCC, ICES and key stakeholders worked together to define the specification and functionality of the Platform and open access data products. The build and population of the platform with cetacean survey data occurred over 2021–2022.
  3. Develop a MEDIN-compliant data guideline for UK datasets: The JCDP worked with The Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN) to develop a UK cetacean data guideline to compliment the Platform, which was adopted and published by MEDIN and Ocean Best Practices
  4. Develop and implement a communications strategy for the JCDP: A communications strategy has been developed and was implemented from 2021 to promote the platform and co-ordinate communications relating to the JCDP.

The Phase two interim report provides an update on the delivery of the objectives and achievements as of the end of 2021.


Launch and Operation (2022 onwards)

Following its launch in 2022 The JCDP data portal is now fully operational and hosts data from a wide variety of sources. The JNCC and WGJCDP is actively engaging with data collectors and custodians to increase the historic data holdings and ensure current and future data collection follows the agreed upon standard.

Additional tools to aid functionality have been developed since launch, such as a data dashboard, and a spatial search function on the portal map. Further data products will continue to be developed, and there may be future updates to the scope and function of the JCDP.


JCDP Governance

The JCDP development was managed by JNCC and funded by Defra from 2019 until 2022 when the JCDP platform launched. The development of the JCDP was a collaborative project with involvement from many stakeholders and contributors from a range of organisations across the north-east Atlantic area. A steering group of relevant stakeholders was convened at the project conception and has been instrumental in ensuring the JCDP platform is fit for purpose and successful in achieving its vision.

Following the platform launch in 2022, an international ICES governance group (WGJCDP) took over the project management to ensure future resilience. Currently the working group is chaired by JNCC and has representation from across the north-east Atlantic. The working group is open to membership enquiries from relevant bodies in north-east Atlantic coastal states.  The group is working towards shared objectives to support, promote and continue to develop the JCDP, and collaborates with other relevant ICES working groups for shared benefit.



JCDP Development Steering Group

To help deliver the project, a steering group was established, ensuring relevant representation and expertise would be involved throughout. The membership primarily comprises representatives from organisations which collect cetacean data in the north-east Atlantic, or have a need to use these data. Those involved included:

Government and Statutory Agencies

JCDP Government department logos (grouped image): JNCC, Marine Scotland Science,  DAERA,  UK Hydrographic Office,  Natural Resources Wales,  Welsh Government,  North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO),  Scottish Government, The Crown Estate,  National Parks & Wildlife Service, Bundesamt für Naturschutz / Federal Agency for Nature Conservation,  NatureScot,  Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute

A strong evidence base on which to make appropriate policy decisions is essential. Therefore, these organisations have a keen interest in the development of the JCDP platform and associated data products.


Logos of JCDP Contributors – Industry and commercial companies: HiDef,  SMRU Consulting,  RenewableUK,  Royal Haskoning, Oil and Gas UK, Hartley Anderson,  APEM Ltd, NIRAS, Aquatera, AZTI, Bureau Waardenburg / Delta Project Management,  RPS Group, Scottish Power

Industrial and commercial marine activities in the north-east Atlantic are varied and widespread, from energy production to extraction of resources. 

Academic and Technical

JCDP Contributors – Academic and technical institutions: Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Instituto Español de Oceanografia, Centre for Research into Ecology and Environmental Modelling, Plymouth University, University College Cork, Instituto de Investigacións Mariñas, La Rochelle Université, FTZ University of Kiel, University of Aberdeen, Sea Mammal Research Unit, Galway-Mayo Institute of technology, Wageningen , Aarhus University, Koninklijk Belgisch Instituut

Countries bordering the north-east Atlantic have a wealth of world-class academic and technical experts in the field of cetacean research.

Non-Government Organisations

JCDP Non-Government Organisation logos: Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, ORCA, Sea Watch Foundation, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Sociedade Portuguesa de Vida Selvagem, Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves, Coordinadora para o Estudo dos Mamíferos Mariños,  The Wildlife Trusts, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch, Marine Life, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Marine Conservation Research

Non-governmental organisations such as marine conservation charities provide an important contribution to cetacean data through extensive volunteer networks and science programmes. Many of these organisations have potential to contribute a significant volume of data to the JCDP.



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