Overcoming Challenges to Protect Beaked Whales in the Northeast Atlantic
Dolman, S.J., Berrow, S.D., Brownlow, A., Deaville, R., Evans, P.G.H., Fernandez, A., Gordon, J.C.D., Haelters, J., IJsseldijk, L.L., Miller, P., Morell, M., Pl?n, S., Renell, J., Simmonds, M., Stockin, K., Virgili, A. and Wickson, F.
The topic of beaked whales was raised at the 9th Meeting of the Parties to ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas) in September 2020, because of the apparent increase in strandings that had occurred in the UK, Ireland, Iceland, the Faroes and elsewhere in the region. Many of the species involved are categorised as Data Deficient under the IUCN. The level of monitoring at sea was inadequate, so it is difficult to specify at-sea causal factors driving the strandings. An intersessional working group (IWG) of ASCOBANS was established to bring together experts to summarise information about recent strandings, population abundance and distribution, to discuss potential reasons for the strandings, and to report back to the 26th Meeting of the ASCOBANS Advisory Committee (8-12 November 2021).
Strandings data from the NE Atlantic region (1990-2020) presented here shows a high and potentially growing incidence of strandings of beaked whales, with several Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs) recorded over this period. The Northeast Atlantic has become a global hotspot for beaked whale UMEs, with the largest ever beaked whale stranding occurring in 2018, and such UME’s appear to be increasing in both magnitude and frequency. Given the vulnerability of beaked whales to underwater noise, supported by significant advances in our understanding of the impacts of military sonar on these animals, it seems likely that powerful sonars deployed in or close to important beaked whale habitat may at least be in part responsible. Knowledge of beaked whale biology in the region, including distribution and habitat needs, remains poor, making the significance of these events difficult to fully evaluate. We review latest information on distribution, seasonal occurrence, abundance estimates and status in the annex. We also review the latest strandings information here and provide some recommendations for further research and other actions to address this issue. Action to prevent further lethal and sublethal impacts should not be delayed.