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Joint Cetacean Data Programme

Maximising the value of cetacean data through promotion and facilitation of standardisation and collation

Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are highly mobile species inhabiting an environment that is challenging for us to observe and understand. The Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP) will deliver an accessible, growing resource of collated cetacean monitoring data in support of overcoming these obstacles by maximising use of existing information.

The report from Phase 1 (2019–2020) of the work can be found below in Section 2. We are now in Phase 2 of the project (2020–2022) which will see the development of the JCDP database and platform, ready for publication by Spring 2022.


Data collation exercises (e.g. the JNCC-led Joint Cetacean Protocol; Marine Ecosystems Research Programme) have proven highly effective in increasing the value of the data by using them in combination. For example, the identification of areas of persistent density of harbour porpoise for designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). However, there is now a need to work with data providers in finding a solution to collating and storing these data long-term for continued use, to improve the UK capacity for analysing and understanding cetaceans using our waters.

UK-wide surveys of cetaceans to date have only occurred at approximately decadal intervals (e.g. SCANS – Small Cetaceans in European Atlantic waters and the North Sea), which limits our ability to understand population trends, even for the most common species in UK waters. Therefore, robust assessments of the conservation status of these species are generally not achievable. There is a substantial and growing resource in other sources of survey data that are gathered at different temporal and spatial scales around the UK by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), industry, academic and regional government-funded projects. Independently, these data have limited application given the highly mobile nature of these animals. However, when these data are collated they become an invaluable resource for a range of analyses to inform conservation and policy needs.

The JCDP is a stakeholder-inclusive project, with a steering group convened to ensure all views are represented throughout the development of the project. The objective is to maximise the value of individual cetacean datasets through promotion of a standardised approach to data collection and storage, and facilitation of collated use.


Phase 1 project objectives

Phase 1 of the JCDP is now complete. The primary objectives for Phase 1 (Summer 2019 – Spring 2020) of the project included:

  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 have been reviewed and a draft Data Standard has been developed, with input from stakeholders at the project workshop (Autumn 2019).
  2. Explore long-term data permissions and access protocols across data providers: A draft Data Policy has been developed to consider the needs for submission, storage and access to the data within the JCDP. There is a need to suit the range of data providers and work towards as simple and open an agreement as possible to enable best use of the collated data.
  3. Scope and report on the options for continued collation and hosting/archiving of the cetacean database: An appraisal of the options and scope of work required to develop and maintain the data resource was carried out, and recommendations for next steps to realise the aim of this resource have been submitted to funders.

The Phase 1 report outlines the approach for delivery of the objectives and summarises the outcomes. The Annexes include draft Data Standards Protocol and Data Policy documents, which represent the initial stages in the development of project standards and policies with regards to collection, storage, submission and use of data forming part of the JCDP.


Phase 2 project objectives

The objectives for Phase 2 (Summer 2020 – Spring 2022) of the project include:

Objective 1: Initiate plans to develop the JCDP with ICES

Effective governance is essential to ensure the long-term maintenance and effectiveness of this project. ICES was identified in Phase 1 as the most suitable organisation to host the database due to their existing data centre and experience in developing and managing similar projects. ICES have now been contracted to design and build the database and associated portal (collectively termed the platform) with input from the steering group.

Objective 2: Design and plan development of the cetacean platform (database and portal)

Year one (2020–2021) will primarily be the design and planning stage for the database, with the build and population with cetacean survey data to occur in year two (2021–2022).

A workshop has been scheduled to bring together ICES and key stakeholders to define the specification and functionality of the database and portal as well as the open access data products.

Objective 3: Develop a MEDIN-compliant data guideline for UK datasets

The Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN) have asked JNCC to work with them to develop a UK cetacean data guideline. This will be developed in collaboration with The Archive for Marine Species and Habitats Data (DASSH) and MEDIN would host the guideline, which would be made available for all relevant data collectors. MEDIN already host data guidelines for other survey methods and are recognised as a hub for metadata standards.

Objective 4: Create and implement the cetacean database and portal

ICES will lead on developing the JCDP platform including:

  • Data ingestion and validation tool
  • Data visualisation and filtering tools to aid extraction
  • Data download tool
  • Data products

A pilot set of data will be used for testing the system before further data are ingested, with the fully functioning platform expected by Spring 2022.

Objective 5: Develop and implement a communications strategy for the JCDP

Proactive communication of the project is essential to ensure data are submitted and the database is utilised effectively. A communications strategy will be developed and implemented to promote the platform and coordinate communication regarding the project.


Project manager

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Project funders


The JCDP is funded by DEFRA, through the Healthy and Biologically Diverse Seas Evidence Group (HBDSEG). 


Project Steering Group


  • Sea Watch Foundation
  • ORCA
  • MARINELife
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • Whale and Dolphin Conservation
  • Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust


  • RenewableUK
  • Oil and Gas UK
  • RPS Group
  • Royal Haskoning
  • Hartley Anderson
  • Scottish Power


  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • UK Hydrographic Office
  • Scottish Natural Heritage
  • Marine Scotland Science
  • Welsh Government
  • Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
  • National Parks & Wildlife Service
  • The Crown Estate


  • Marine Biological Association
  • Bangor University
  • University College Cork
  • Plymouth University
  • Exeter University


  • HiDef
  • Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) Consulting
  • Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)
  • Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology
  • APEM
  • NIRAS Consulting ltd
  • Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM)



Marine mammals

Published: .

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