World Oceans Day: Safeguarding the Oceans for Future Generations

Photo credit: @ORCA_web on Twitter

The ocean covers more than two thirds of the surface of our planet, and is the mysterious home of countless species. The seemingly endless sea, both evocative and intimidating, can strike us as eternal, unchanging, infinite.

However, despite appearances, the marine environment is fragile and vulnerable, and in the 21st Century faces a wider array of threats than at any other point in human history. Growth in population, industrialisation and technological advancement has given humanity the ability to delve deeper and farther into the ocean, and as a result our impact on the ocean has been profoundly damaging.

ORCA believe that everyone who cares about the marine environment have a responsibility to play their part to make sure that these critical habitats are protected and the marine life that calls it home are safe. We do this by training volunteer “citizen scientists” to monitor whales, dolphins and porpoises, using them as indicator species to give us a picture of the overall health of the ocean. We know that if whales and dolphins are thriving, the ecosystem is strong and that other species are doing well.

By doing this we can understand the impact of the many threats that marine species are facing in the 21st century, and identify trends in the places we can find marine mammals and the populations in different parts of UK and European waters.

This includes well known issues such as marine plastic – thousands of tons of plastic waste that finds its way into the ocean and is ingested by a host of different species. This can fill the stomach of animals that mistake it for food, causing them to starve and eventually die, with some specimens found with huge quantities of plastic waste in their stomach.

It also includes less know threats, such as bycatch. This is when marine animals are tangled in fishing gear, which can cause horrific injuries and even death. Hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises are victim to this each year, both smaller animals who are caught and drowned in nets and larger whales which are entangled in lines from crab and lobster pots.

Monitoring whales and dolphins is even allowing ORCA to work to address some of the least understood issues facing marine mammals, including ship strike. Large whales globally are regularly involved in collisions with ships of all types and sizes, but the problem is so poorly understood we don’t truly understand even the scale of the challenge facing us. ORCA are analysing large whale behaviour to better understand how they react to ships, as well as analysing data to identify more high risk areas. We hope to be able to give ships better advice on how to minimise the risk of collisions.

We’re delighted to have the opportunity to highlight some of these threats in the upcoming Europe’s Sea Mammals – not only have we been able to include the data we use to try and mitigate some of these threats, but we have even been able to profile some of the challenges facing whales and dolphins to raise awareness, and hopefully inspire people to make small changes in their own lives.

We can all do our part to keep the ocean safe and we have a responsibility to be custodians of the sea. To find out some of the ways you can get involved, be sure to pick up Europe’s Sea Mammals, as well as visiting www.orcaweb.org.uk to find out how you can be an ocean hero.

Europe’s Sea Mammals Including the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde
A field guide to the whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals
By Robert Still, Hugh Harrop, Tim Stenton, and Luis Dias

This cutting-edge photographic identification guide to Europe’s sea mammals—the only such guide of its kind—covers the 39 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and 9 species of seals found in the region, which spans the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean, Caspian and Baltic seas. Written and illustrated by a team of professional tour guides with extensive experience presenting the region’s sea mammals, the guide features more than 180 color photographs, maps and graphics, highlights key identification features and includes information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species. Produced with the marine conservation charity ORCA, the book presents mapping data from a decade of surveys, which shows both current distribution and changes over time.

Europe’s Sea Mammals is an essential companion for whale watchers and anyone else who is interested in this enigmatic group of mammals.

  • The only photographic guide dedicated to this popular whale-watching region
  • Features more than 180 color photos, maps and graphics
  • Highlights key identification features and provides essential information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species