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Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for The National Marine Plan

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CETACEANS

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are collectively known as cetaceans. Twenty-three species have been recorded in Scottish waters over the last 25 years. Of these 11 are regularly sighted, the remaining 12 are considered to be vagrants or rare visitors.

Cetaceans are very mobile and can range widely with some undertaking large scale seasonal migrations often leaving Scottish waters in the process. Other species are more localised in their distribution. The greatest diversity of species is found off the continental shelf in waters to the north and west of Scotland.

Legislation

Cetaceans are protected by a number of international conventions and agreements. All cetacean species are listed on Annex IV of the Council Directive 92/43/ EEC of 21 May 1992, commonly known as the Habitats Directive, 'animal and plant species of community interest in need of strict protection'. Two species (bottlenose dolphin and harbour porpoise) are also listed on Annex II 'whose conservation requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation'. At present there is one SAC designated for the bottlenose dolphin in Scotland but none for the harbour porpoise.

Further obligations under the Habitats Directive require the UK'to maintain or restore, at favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest'and ' establish a system to monitor the incidental capture and killing of the animals species listed in Annex IVa. In the light of the information gathered, Member states shall take further research of conservation measures as required to ensure that incidental capture and killing does not have a significant negative impact on the species concerned.'and under the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Sea ( ASCOBANS) the UK is required to ' endeavour to establish an efficient system for reporting and retrieving bycatches and stranding specimens and to carry out … full autopsies in order to collect tissues for further studies and reveal possible causes of death'.

Pressures

Cetaceans face a number of threats such as noise disturbance from shipping, oil and gas operations, military activities and potentially from other novel activities such as renewable energy developments. They are also vulnerable to pollution although concentrations of many contaminants such as PCBs are declining. Bycatch is the main form of direct human-caused mortality in UK waters. It is seen as a particular threat to harbour porpoises and short-beaked common dolphins although with the reduction in the use of static fishing gear this is declining. Council Regulation 812/2004 lays down measures concerning incidental catches of cetaceans by fisheries and requires member states to report certain cetacean bycatch.

Some species are at risk from entanglement and of death or injury from collisions with vessels. At present this is considered to be slight but with the installation of new renewable energy devices it is possible that this risk could increase. It is not known what the likely impacts of wide scale habitat damage/change are, nor the implications of climate change for cetaceans.

Distribution of cetacean species occurring in Scottish waters
(Species with an asterisk are Priority Marine Features)

Species

UK continental shelf ( CS)

UK offshore waters ( OS)

Population estimates

Date of estimate

Phocoena phocoena*
Harbour porpoise

v

385,600
European CS

2005

Tursiops truncatus*
Bottlenose dolphin

v

v

12,600
European CS
19,300 OS

2005 CS
2007 OS

Lagenorhynchus albirostris*
White-beaked dolphin

v

22,700
European CS
10,600 for North Sea

2005

Balaenoptera physalus*
Fin whale

v

9,000

2007

Balaenoptera acutorostrata*
Minke whale

v

v

18,600
European CS
6,800 OS

2005 CS
2007 OS

Delphinus delphis*
Short-beaked common dolphin

v

v

63,400
European CS
116,700 OS

2005 CS
2007 OS

Lagenorhynchus acutus*
Atlantic white-sided dolphin

v (summer only)

v

74,600
Faroe Shetland Channel
21,400
Outer Hebrides

2004 CS

Grampus griseus*
Risso's dolphin

v

No pop. estimate

Globcephala melas*
Long-finned pilot whale

v

25,100

2007

Orcinus orca*
Killer whale

v

v

Widespread but pop. size unknown

Physeter macrocephalus*
Sperm whale

v

2,100

2007

Stenella coeruleoalba
Striped dolphin

v

67,400

2007

Hyperoodon ampullatus*
Northern bottlenose whale

v

7,000 for all beaked whales

2007

Ziphius cavirostris
Cuvier's beaked whale

v

7,000 for all beaked whales

2007

Mesoplodon bidens*
Sowerby's beaked whale

v

7,000 for all beaked whales

2007

Mesoplodon mirus
True's beaked whale

v

No data

Balaenoptera borealis
Sei whale

v

370

2007

Balaenoptera musculus
Blue whale

v

No data

Megaptera novaengliae
Humpback whale

v (summer only)

v

No data

Delphinapterus leucas
Beluga whale

v

No data

Eubalaeana glacialis
Northern right whale

v

No data

Preudorca crassidens
False killer whale

v

No data

Kogia breviceps
Pygmy sperm whale

v

No data

Priority Marine Features

Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
White-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)
Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus)
Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas)
Killer whale (Orcinus orca)
Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)
Sowerby's beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens)

Moray Firth - Bottlenose dolphin Special Area of Conservation

Moray Firth - Bottlenose dolphin Special Area of Conservation
© P.S.A. Macdonald/ SNH

Harbour porpoise
Phocoena phocoena

Habitat: Open coast, shallow bays, estuaries and sea lochs

Scottish distribution: Abundant in waters all around Scotland

Status:IUCN Red List - Least Concern

Harbour porpoise map

Harbour porpoise
© Peter Evans Seawatch Foundation

Bottlenose dolphin
Tursiops truncatus

Habitat: Open coast, sea lochs, firths and offshore

Scottish distribution: Resident population of around 111 individuals known from Moray Firth and adjacent coastal waters. Also recorded from around Inner and Outer Hebrides

Status:IUCN Red List - Least Concern

Bottlenose dolphin map

Bottlenose dolphin
© Lorne Gill/ SNH

White-beaked dolphin
Lagenorhynchus albirostris

Habitat: Open coast, sea lochs with a preference for waters shallower than 200m and along the shelf edge

Scottish distribution: Abundant in all Scottish waters but concentrated around the Hebrides and Northern Isles

Status:IUCN Red List - Least Concern

White-beaked dolphin map

White-beaked dolphin
© Caroline Weir Seawatch Foundation

Minke whale
Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Habitat: Open coast, straits and sounds, sea lochs and occasionally offshore

Scottish distribution: Throughout Scottish waters

Status:IUCN Red List - Least Concern

Minke whale map

Minke whale
© Peter Evans Seawatch Foundation

Short-beaked common dolphin
Delphinus delphis

Habitat: Open coast, offshore with a preference for areas of steep seabed

Scottish distribution: Mainly around the Hebrides

Status:IUCN Red List - Least Concern

Short-beaked common dolphin map

Short-beaked common dolphin
© P Anderwald Seawatch Foundation

Atlantic white-sided dolphin
Lagenorhynchus acutus

Habitat: Offshore along the outer continental shelf and slope

Scottish distribution: Around the Hebrides, Northern isles and North Sea

Status:IUCN Red List - Least Concern

Atlantic white-sided dolphin map

Atlantic white-sided dolphin
© WDCS/Hal Whitehead

Risso's dolphin
Grampus griseus

Habitat: Open coast, straits and sounds, sea lochs and offshore with a preference for areas with steep sloping sea bed

Scottish distribution: Most sightings around the Outer Hebrides, occasionally from Northern Isles and off the east coast

Status:IUCN Red List - Least Concern

Risso's dolphin map

Risso's dolphin
© D Feingold Seawatch Foundation

Long-finned pilot whale
Globicephala melas

Habitat: Deep waters along and seaward of the continental shelf edge

Scottish distribution: Sightings limited to Moray Firth and offshore west of the Hebrides and Shetland

Status:IUCN Red List - Data Deficient

Long-finned pilot whale map

Long-finned pilot whale
© M Baines Seawatch Foundation

Killer whale
Orcinus orca

Habitat: Open coast, straits and sounds, sea lochs and offshore

Scottish distribution: All around coast but sightings concentrated around Mull, north-east coast and Northern Isles

Status:IUCN Red List - Data Deficient

Killer whale map

Killer whale
© M Baines Seawatch Foundation

Sperm whale
Physeter macrocephalus

Habitat: Continental slope and oceanic waters >1000m deep

Scottish distribution: Offshore to north and west of Scotland, occasionally seen inshore off Shetland

Status:IUCN Red List - Vulnerable

Sperm whale map

Sperm whale
© Peter Evans Seawatch Foundation

Fin whale
Balaenoptera physalus

Habitat: Deepwater (400-2000m) beyond the edge of the continental shelf where they favour banks, mounds and areas of upwelling and frontal zones

Scottish distribution: Beyond the continental shelf margin in northern waters

Status:IUCN Red List - Endangered

Fin whale map

Fin whale
© Seawatch Foundation

Northern bottlenose whale
Hyperoodon ampullatus

Habitat: Cold temperate to subarctic deep waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf at depths of between 500-1500m, often near submarine canyons

Scottish distribution: Most records from beyond the continental shelf edge to the north-west of Scotland in summer months

Status:IUCN Red List - Data Deficient

Northern bottlenose whale map

Northern bottlenose whale
© Seawatch Foundation

Sowerby's beaked whale
Mesoplodon bidens

Habitat: Occurs almost exclusively in deep waters beyond the continental shelf edge

Scottish distribution: Most records are from north-west and east Scotland

Status:IUCN Red List - Data Deficient

Sowerby's beaked whale
© Seawatch Foundation

Status

Five species (harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphin, white-beaked dolphin, fin whale and minke whale) are considered to be in favourable condition, with the status of another six (short-beaked common dolphin, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, Risso's dolphin, long-finned pilot whale, killer whale, sperm whale) unknown because of a lack of suitable abundance estimates. The status of the remaining vagrant and rare species also could not be assessed.

As a group cetaceans are considered to be in good condition in the North Sea, but in moderate condition in the Minches and Western Scottish waters. The status of cetaceans in the Scottish continental shelf and offshore waters is unknown.

Species

Range

Population

Habitat

Future prospects

Overall assessment

Harbour porpoise

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

Bottlenose dolphin

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

Minke whale

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

White-beaked dolphin

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

Fin whale

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

favourable

Short-beaked common dolphin

favourable

unknown

favourable

unknown

unknown

Atlantic white-sided dolphin

favourable

unknown

favourable

unknown

unknown

Risso's dolphin

favourable

unknown

favourable

unknown

unknown

Killer whale

favourable

unknown

favourable

unknown

unknown

Sperm whale

favourable

unknown

favourable

unknown

unknown

Long-finned pilot whale

favourable

unknown

favourable

unknown

unknown