The State of Cetaceans

In July 2023, we published our 6th 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, wider threats to cetaceans and habitats and marine pollution 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 2023

ORCA's sixth report, The State of Cetaceans 2023, is the culmination of 17 years’ worth of sightings and environmental data collected during the 1,117 ORCA surveys conducted between 2006-2022 using platforms of opportunity (namely ferries and cruise ships). This includes 721 distance sampling ferry surveys, 396 effort based surveys from ferries.

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

29,067 individual cetaceans were seen

In 2022 a total survey distance of 154,159km was covered with 121 surveys on board ferries and 57 surveys on board cruise ships. 29,067 individual cetaceans were recorded, with 21,531 identified to species level. 35 different species were identified.

The Northwest Passage was surveyed for the first time by ORCA

The regions visited in 2022 were the Northeast Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Arctic Waters, parts of the Western Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and South America, the coastal South Atlantic Ocean, the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the Southern Ocean and for the first time, the Northwest Passage.

Three new species seen

35 species were seen in 2022. Hourglass dolphins, narwhals and southern right whales were recorded by ORCA for the first time.

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 2022 a total of 1,623 km of effort was conducted by OceanWatchers at sea and 281 hours of effort on land. 2,735 individual cetaceans were recorded.

Saving large whales from ship strike

ORCA has worked with over 300 seafarers in our ship strike mitigation training and education programmes, which will increase compliance in voluntary and mandatory ship strike mitigation measures worldwide and will lead to active engagement across the shipping industry of the best practice measures for reducing the ship strike threat.

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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