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Marine mammals

The UK is home to a variety of marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, porpoises (collectively called cetaceans) and seals. Eleven cetacean species are seen regularly throughout the year, such as minke whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, and harbour porpoise, along with two species of seal: grey seal and harbour (or common) seal. JNCC’s role is to co-ordinate scientific advice on the conservation of marine mammals on behalf of the devolved administrations and country nature conservation bodies, to support UK governments to meet national and international commitments.

Marine mammals occurring in UK waters are protected under various national and international legislative frameworks such as:

Our work primarily consists of three key areas: monitoring; assessment and reporting; and management.

Monitoring

Monitoring marine mammals is essential to understanding their conservation status and need for, and effectiveness of, management measures. Some of the marine mammal monitoring programmes supported by JNCC include:

  • The Small Cetaceans in European Atlantic waters and the North Sea (SCANS) projects are organised at approximately decadal intervals with the aim of surveying north-eastern Atlantic cetacean populations. The surveys provide robust estimates of abundance for use in status and impact assessments.
  • The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) and sister programme the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) collect data on dead-stranded marine animals around the UK coast, identifying cause of death and key health information to aid monitoring of the pressures marine species are facing.
  • The UK Bycatch Monitoring Programme places dedicated observers on board commercial fishing vessels, and looks at ways to reduce bycatch by, for example, carrying out trials on the effectiveness of acoustic “pinger” devices attached to nets to deter cetaceans.
  • The Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP) is a collaborative project led by JNCC, working towards an aspiration to deliver a growing resource of collated cetacean distribution data.
  • The Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) has a duty, on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), to provide scientific advice to government on matters related to the management of seal populations.

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Assessment and reporting

JNCC contributes to reporting progress on implementation of several key pieces of conservation legislation and multilateral agreements. This involves collating evidence on distribution, abundance and information on threats and pressures from the various monitoring schemes. Our obligations include:

  • Supporting the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan policies for securing clean, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans; and protecting and improving our global environment.
  • Reporting on cetacean and seal indicator assessments to support the UK Marine Strategy, the framework for achieving good environmental status (GES) in our seas.
  • Reporting on the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy of the OSPAR Convention.
  • Co-ordination of national reporting under ASCOBANS.

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Management

Our role includes collaborating with the country nature conservation bodies, working groups and committees to manage highly mobile marine species throughout their wider range. This work includes:

  • Provision of guidance on the mitigation of disturbance to marine mammals from human activities.
  • Contributing to the Marine Scotland-led UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy, which assesses threats and pressures to the most vulnerable species and provides advice to the governments on possible measures.
  • Identifying and proposing marine mammal Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in offshore waters. 
  • Developing advice on conservation management within MPAs in the form of site-specific Conservation Objectives (COs) and Advice on Operations.

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Further information

Information on designated marine mammal protected areas in offshore waters can be found on our Site Information Centre webpages.

Recent relevant publications can be found on our Resource Hub

For further information please contact us 

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