The State of Cetaceans

In June 2024, we published our 7th State of Cetaceans report.

With our surveys expanding globally, we are gaining even greater insight about marine mammal populations in more diverse and remote parts of the ocean. Our work on ship strikes and wider threats to cetaceans and their habitats has moved onto an international stage, and so our report now reflects this increasing global dimension to our work.

Critical Cetacean Habitats

The State of Cetaceans is ORCA's report series, documenting the results of its survey findings and, more importantly, drawing conclusions about what this means for whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild.

With significant and emerging threats continuing to adversely impact these animals and their habitats, ORCA's findings are crucial in providing evidence to conserve these animals in the future.

The State of Cetaceans 2024

ORCA's seventh report, The State of Cetaceans 2024, is the culmination of 18 years’ worth of sightings and environmental data collected during the 1,341 ORCA surveys conducted between 2006-2023 using platforms of opportunity (namely ferries and cruise ships). A total of 44 different whale, dolphin and porpoise species have been identified during this period, with 217,426 individual animals recorded.

This report, in particular, looks at how citizen science can be used to protect vulnerable cetacean populations, identify critical habitats and understand the behaviour of the large whales around vessels to help reduce the number of animals being hit by ships.

Report Overview

55,604 individual cetaceans were seen

In 2023 a total survey distance of 330,246km was covered at sea from dedicated ORCA surveys. An impressive 35 different species of whale, dolphin and porpoise were identified and 55,604 individual animals were recorded.

Regions of the Pacific Ocean was surveyed for the first time by ORCA

Historically, ORCA’s data collection has been centred on the Northeast Atlantic, but in recent years ORCA's scope has expanded to cover much of the world's ocean. The regions visited in 2023 included the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Arctic Ocean, Southern Ocean, Caribbean, and for the first time, the southwest and central regions of the Pacific Ocean.

New important areas designated for cetaceans

ORCA's ongoing evidence collection in the Bay of Biscay, North Sea, English Channel, Hebrides and Celtic Seas, provided compelling data to inform the creation of 33 new Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) in the Baltic and Northeast Atlantic.

Saving large whales from vessel strike

ORCA continues to advance bespoke vessel strike behavioural research in the Bay of Biscay and Alaska. Examining how large whales behave around large vessels is critical and preliminary results indicate that vessels of a certain size can take effective avoidance action and reduce the collision risk.

ORCA OceanWatchers

In addition to ORCA’s dedicated effort based surveys, the work carried out by our volunteer network of OceanWatchers has enabled us to expand our survey effort significantly. In 2023, 23,274km of effort was conducted by OceanWatchers at sea and 435 hours of effort on land. 1,281 individual cetaceans were recorded.

Thank you ORCA...

ORCA continues to play a critical role - quietly and unassumingly - in efforts to care for whales, dolphins and porpoises in European waters.

I still marvel at the way it so successfully relies on an outstanding and tireless army of trained volunteers: people, from all walks of life and of all ages, who give their time to make a real difference. Quite simply, they get the job done. The world would certainly be a poorer place without them.

Mark Carwardine Marine Wildlife Expert, Photographer and ORCA Patron

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