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Cetacean FAQs

What kind of cetaceans can be found in waters around Scotland?

There is a wide variety of cetaceans in the waters around Scotland. The harbour porpoise, Phocoena phocoena is the most widely distributed, with concentrations around the Northern Isles and in the central North Sea. The bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus is locally frequent in inshore waters off North-east Scotland and the Western Isles. A wide variety of other cetaceans including the common dolphin, Risso's dolphin and the killer whale can be found off the North and West coasts of Scotland .

How are cetaceans protected?

All cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) are protected under the EC Habitats Directive as European Protected Species. A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has been established in the Moray Firth to protect the local population of bottlenose dolphins. A consultation on an SAC for Harbour Porpoise is currently underway.

The UK is also a signatory to the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS) which seeks to reduce the incidental bycatch of small cetaceans in fishing gear.

How many cetaceans are stranded on Scottish coastlines each year?

The latest information on cetacean strandings can be found on the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme website.

What is being done to tackle the issue of incidental bycatch of cetaceans in fishing nets?

The Scottish Government supported the UK Government in gaining approval, at the third Meeting of the Parties to ASCOBANS in June 2000, to a resolution which identifies that cetacean bycatch above 1.7% of the population abundance constitutes an unacceptable interaction, as any takes above this level would inevitably lead to population decline.

The Scottish Government has worked closely with Defra, other Devolved Administrations and nature conservation agencies in drafting the UK Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy, which identifies measures that can be taken to work towards reducing small cetacean bycatch to below the target set by ASCOBANS in 2000. The Strategy was published for consultation in March 2003. Over the last three years, Defra, in partnership with the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations, have worked to take forward the recommendations of the strategy. There has been considerable activity to improve our knowledge of small cetaceans and reduce the numbers captured incidentally in fisheries. To reflect the progress made so far in implementing the measures proposed in the strategy an action plan was published on 12 December 2006.

One of the recommendations of the strategy is to develop an overarching bycatch monitoring system to investigate levels of bycatch in UK fisheries. In response to this recommendation and requirements under new EC Regulations on cetacean bycatch (see link below), Defra and the Scottish Government are now funding a two year project to determine the levels of bycatch per haul in each fishery and thus help identify specific fisheries causing the largest amount of bycatch in each region. The project is being undertaken by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and will report in 2010.

In addition, new EC Regulations agreed by Member States in April 2004 seek to reduce the level of cetacean bycatch in European waters.