Abundance of harbour porpoise and other cetaceans in the North Sea and adjacent waters

Philip Steven Hammond, P Berggren, H Benke, David Louis Borchers, A Collet, MP Heide-Jørgensen, S Heimlich, AR Hiby, MF Leopold, N Øien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

279 Citations (Scopus)


1. The status of small cetaceans in the North Sea and adjacent waters has been of concern for many years. Shipboard and aerial line transect surveys were conducted to provide accurate and precise estimates of abundance as a basis for conservation strategy in European waters.

2. The survey, known as SCANS (Small Cetacean Abundance in the North Sea), was conducted in summer 1994 and designed to generate precise and unbiased abundance estimates. Thus the intensity of survey was high, and data collection and analysis methods allowed for the probability of detection of animals on the transect line being less than unity and, for shipboard surveys, also allowed for animal movement in response to the survey platform.

3. Shipboard transects covered 20 000 km in an area of 890 000 km(2). Aerial transects covered 7000 km in an area of 150 000 km(2).

4. Three species dominated the data. Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena were encountered throughout the survey area except in the Channel and the southern North Sea. Whitebeaked dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris and minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata were found mainly in the north-western North Sea.

5. Phocoena phocoena abundance for the entire survey area was estimated as 341 366 [coefficient of variation (CV) = 0.14; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 260 000-449 000]. The estimated number of B. acutorostrata was 8445 (CV = 024; 95% Cl 5000-13 500). The estimate for L. albirostris based on confirmed sightings of this species was 7856 (CV = 0.30; 95% CI = 4000-13 000). When Atlantic whitesided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus and Lagenorhynchus spp. sightings were included, this estimate increased to 11 760 (CV = 0.26; 95% CI 5900-18 500).

6. Shortbeaked common dolphin Delphinus delphis were found almost exclusively in the Celtic Sea. Abundance was estimated as 75 450 (CV = 0.67; 95% CI = 23 000-149 000).

7. Current assessments and recommendations by international fora concerning the impact on P. phocoena of bycatch in gillnet fisheries in the North Sea and adjacent waters are based on these estimates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-376
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2002


  • conservation
  • line transect sampling
  • management
  • minke whale
  • Phocoena phocoena
  • shortbeaked common dolphin
  • sightings survey
  • whitebeaked dolphin
  • WEST
  • BAY


Dive into the research topics of 'Abundance of harbour porpoise and other cetaceans in the North Sea and adjacent waters'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this