Whales, dolphins and porpoises in European waters – yes, there are, and no fewer than 33 species! Unfortunately, they are not better off in Europe than in other regions of the world, at times even worse off. A cumulation of different threats jeopardises the survival of many cetacean populations in Europe. OceanCare has now brought together the leading scientists in their respective fields to set out the situation of cetaceans in Europe in a comprehensive report and to present solutions for decision-makers.

Find below today’s press release by OceanCare. The report is available at https://www.oceancare.org/underpressure.

Scientists warn:
European whales and dolphins “Under Pressure” of extinction

Zurich, 22nd April 2021: When confronted with disturbing images of dolphins and porpoises entangled in fishing gear, stranded and hunted whales, many of us think of regions far away from Europe. But sadly, it is also happening here in European waters. A new report by leading scientists exposes this cruel and alarming reality.

33 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises live in European seas. From the enormous blue whales in the North Atlantic, sperm whales in the Mediterranean, orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar, to dolphins and harbor porpoises in the North Sea, these European whales are – in theory – among the best protected wildlife on the planet, enjoying a progressive and extensive legal framework. But in reality, they face a menacing array of threats both to their individual well-being as well as to the survival of their populations as such.

These are the findings of “UNDER PRESSURE”, a new report published by OceanCare, which brought together leading scientists from all over Europe to compile a comprehensive overview of the myriad of threats and the state of survival and conservation of Europe´s whales and dolphins.

Despite their legal protection on paper, in particular by the EU’s nature and species protection laws and international conservation conventions, whales and dolphins are still hunted by the thousands in European waters, are in constant conflict with fishing activities, face an agonising death as by-catch of fishing fleets or get entangled in floating fishing gear (“ghost nets”). They are constantly exposed to noise pollution from shipping, construction, underwater oil and gas exploration and military activities and live in polluted waters full of plastic debris. They are also contaminated by chemical pollutants which negatively impact their immune systems and reproduction rates, and on top of all this, they also face the overlying threat to their survival that comes with climate change.

“UNDER PRESSURE” takes a look at all the different 33 species that inhabit our waters, spread out in numerous regional populations. Of most concern are the orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar which number less than 40 animals; the around 50 common dolphins left in the Gulf of Corinth (Greece), and the less than 500 harbour porpoises left in the Baltic Sea. All are categorised as “critically endangered”, the ranking of utmost concern within the IUCN’s Red List. The North Atlantic´s right whale is also listed in the same category with less than 400 individuals, of which most live on the American side of the Atlantic, meaning this species is already technically extinct in the European part of the Atlantic.

Europeans pride themselves as being progressive and “green”. So, it may come as a surprise to learn that for some species the risk to survival is greater to them in Europe than in other world regions”, says Nicolas Entrup, Co-Director of International Relations at OceanCare. “European waters are among the most polluted and dangerous seas of the world. If we want to give those slow breeding whales and dolphins a chance to survive off our coasts, the strict protection measures need to be enforced and any violation strictly sanctioned. We’ve been waiting for too long.”

The public might be taken by surprise to find out that in the past ten years, more than 50.000 whales, dolphins and porpoises have been killed in directed hunts in northern European waters of the autonomous territories Greenland and the Faroe islands that belong to the Kingdom of Denmark, as well as Norway and Iceland” says Fabienne McLellan, Co-Director at OceanCare focusing to end direct hunts and adds that “many of these hunts are not even overseen by any kind of management or internationally set quotas”.

Given its comprehensive scope and in-depth scientific studies, the report “UNDER PRESSURE” is set to be a standard work for years to come and intends to be a guideline for policy makers in Europe on what actions need to be taken to take the pressure off and to ensure the survival of Europe´s whales and dolphins.

“We certainly need to scale up appropriate actions to avoid losing cetacean populations and species, including by better protecting their habitats, which will also improve the health and resilience of European waters” concludes Fabienne McLellan, the report´s coordinator.


Recommendations that are put forward in the report by the individual authors, as well as from OceanCare, include:

  • ban the deliberate take (hunting) of all cetacean species by all European States
  • ban the use of fishing gear known to cause significant cetacean mortality and habitat destruction
  • ban all oil and gas exploration activities in European waters, including pending licences (following the leads of France and Spain. The latter has just adopted such a ban this month.)
  • impose speed reduction for shipping where possible
  • phase out and totally ban the most hazardous substances and materials used in plastic packaging
  • European States to support a new international, legally binding treaty on plastic, addressing the full lifecycle of plastics, including measures to reduce virgin plastic production and prevent microplastic pollution
  • provide Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with properly implemented and funded conservation management plans