9 May 2019: The report from the Harbour Porpoise Workshop is now available

In December 2018, NAMMCO, along with the Institute of Marine Research, hosted the Joint International Workshop on the Status of Harbour Porpoises in the North Atlantic. The report is now available, and you can find it in our library.

The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is one of the smallest toothed whales that inhabits coastal and continental shelf waters. It is widely distributed in the cooler waters of the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans and the Black Sea. The small size and elusive behavior of these porpoises make them particularly difficult to study in the wild and much remains to be understood about their general biology and ecology. Estimating their abundance is challenging because detection probability is low. Harbour porpoises also face several threats from human activities, including by-catch, depletion of prey stocks due to overfishing, disturbance from noise generating activities and chemical pollution. This combination of factors has seen several international organisations emphasise the need for sound scientific assessments of harbour porpoises and more knowledge on the effects of pressures. As a response to these needs, and as a follow-up to the International Symposium on Harbour Porpoise in the North Atlantic organised by NAMMCO in 1999, this workshop was proposed.

Map of the assessment areas for harbour porpoises in the North Atlantic as decided and used during the workshop, with the ICES fishing areas super-imposed. Data sources: ICES; SAMBAH; (Wessel & Smith, 1996). Cartography: Solveig Enoksen; NAMMCO.

With an overarching aim to improve the knowledge base for ecosystem-based management, the central objectives of the workshop were to:

a) assemble current information on the biology, abundance and by-catch of harbour porpoises,

b) perform assessments of the status of harbour porpoises in different areas of the North Atlantic, and

c) identify the gaps in existing knowledge that need to be addressed to understand the status and ecological role of harbour porpoises in these waters.

The workshop saw 34 scientists from more than 10 countries come together to discuss, exchange information, collate knowledge, and perform status assessments. Many of the important knowledge gaps and areas requiring further research were identified during the workshop and new collaborative initiatives begun. Recognising an ongoing and urgent need for clear assessment units, complete datasets, reliable estimates and rigorous assessments, the participants saw the workshop and its outcomes not as definitive, but rather as an informative step in an ongoing process towards developing a comprehensive understanding and sound management of harbour porpoise populations in a changing North Atlantic.

Along with the main organisers, the workshop planning group consisted of scientists from the Sea Mammal Research Unit (UK), NEFSC-NOAA Fisheries (US), Fisheries and Oceans (Canada), Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (Ireland), and the University of Agricultural Sciences (Sweden).

Photo credit: Gunnar Sætra, IMR.


Find all reports related to harbour porpoises here.

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