Harbour porpoise - Phocoena phocoena
The harbour porpoise (Phocoena
phocoena) is a small, highly mobile species of cetacean that
is common to all UK waters. However, because of the threat from
pressures such as incidental fisheries by-catch, the species has
been assessed as under threat/in decline in the Greater North Sea
and Celtic Sea, resulting in its recognition as a species of
conservation importance under several directives and conventions.
This includes Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive, Appendix
II of the Bonn Convention
and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
An assessment of harbour porpoise conservation status
The Habitat Regulations (HR) for England and
Wales (as amended) and the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats,
&c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended) make it an offence to
kill, injure or disturb European marine protected species (e.g. all
cetaceans).Similar legislation exists for Scottish and Northern
Irish inshore waters.
Between the only two wide-scale surveys in the
UK and adjacent waters in 1994 and 2005 (Hammond et al.,
2002; SCANS II, 2008) there was no evidence of change in the
overall abundance of harbour porpoise, but there was evidence of a
distributional shift. The largest single threat to small cetaceans
- fisheries by-catch - was reported to be diminishing in response
UK-wide Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy and subsequent
long-term monitoring programme, the UK
By-catch Monitoring Scheme, to which JNCC contribute.
Other threats, such as underwater noise, are
also being addressed through the production of good practice
guidelines and protocols for marine industries on how to assess the
likelihood of committing a disturbance offence to cetaceans such as
harbour porpoise, how to avoid it and whether a licence to carry
out activity might be required or not. This has resulted in the
production of several sets of detailed guidelines covering
surveys, pile driving operations
and the use of explosives.
In the second UK report on implementation of
the Habitats Directive, the conservation status of harbour
porpoise in UK waters was assessed as favourable with medium
confidence, and the species is expected to survive and prosper
under the current conservation approach. Continued international
collaborative effort to develop appropriate management plans for
harbour porpoise has been key to ensuring continued protection of
the species. An example is the Conservation Plan for
Harbour Porpoises in the North Sea developed between the
Parties to ASCOBANS (Agreement on the
Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas).
Conservation measures to protect harbour porpoise
Conservation efforts that focus on
threat/impact reduction, such as fisheries by-catch and underwater
noise, coupled with wider surveillance as a mechanism to assess
progress and effectiveness, are most likely to achieve effective
conservation of harbour porpoise. Cetacean surveillance is being
undertaken on a regular basis by a wide variety of agencies,
research bodies and voluntary organisations. To enable the results
of this surveillance to be used in future assessments of the
conservation status of cetaceans, a web-based portal for
effort-related sightings data (the Joint
Cetacean Protocol) is being developed by JNCC and partners.
This will enable our knowledge of the distribution and relative
abundance of cetaceans to remain current, thereby ensuring that
up-to-date information is available when required and enabling us
to assess our approach to harbour porpoise conservation and its
effectiveness. Further information on the appropriateness of site based management of
harbour porpoise is available.
DETR, 2003. UK small cetacean bycatch response
strategy. Department for the Environment Transport and the
Hammond, P. S., Berggren, P., Benke, H.,
Borchers, D. L., Collet, A., Heide-Jorgensen, M. P., Heimlich, S.,
Hiby, A. R., Leopold, M. F. and Øien, N. 2002. Abundance of harbour
porpoise and other cetaceans in the North Sea and adjacent waters.
Journal of Applied Ecology, 39, pp. 361-376.
Pinn, E., Tasker. M., Mendes., and Goold, J. 2009.
Maintaining favourable conservation status of harbour porpoise in
UK waters. Available from http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-5077.
Please note that the 2009 paper has been superseeded by a version
updated in 2010. Please follow the links on the page link
SCANS II, 2008. Small Cetaceans in the European Atlantic and
North Sea. Final Report submitted to the European Commission under
project LIFE04NAT/GB/000245. Available from http://biology.st-and.ac.uk/scans2/inner-finalReport.html