Cetaceans (Whales and Dolphins)

European waters are often overlooked when considering the best places for whales and Dolphins. However, they are extremely rich in whale and dolphin species. The Bay of Biscay and the Western Approaches to the English Channel are the most diverse of these waters. Twenty four species have been reliably recorded, either at sea or stranded on shore in this area, which is more than a quarter of all of the world's species, making these waters some of the most important in the world for cetaceans. Other areas are also very important; for instance 30% of the world's Harbour Porpoise are thought to reside in the North Sea.

Excellent opportunities for enjoying (and surveying) whales and dolphins in relative comfort are presented by ferries that cross these waters, and provide opportunities that MARINELife and our ARC partners regularly use for monitoring.

Many of the species we encounter, and others around the world, are vulnerable, and some are really quite rare. They face many threats including:

  • continued whaling activity
  • entrapment in fishing nets
  • sub-surface noise from military sonar and seismic surveys in particular
  • ingesting plastics
  • pollutants: heavy metal poisoning acquired through the food chain, eg biotoxins etc, which can be immuno-supressive leading to vulnerability from disease

Please visit our pages on Threats Facing the Marine Environment to find out more.

Striped Dolphin Sperm Whale (©Adrian Shephard/MARINElife) Risso's Dolphin (©Adrian Shephard/MARINElife)

Checklist of Species Recorded in the Bay of Biscay, English Channel and the Western Approaches

Frequency:
1 vagrant or extreme rarity
2 very rare; not annual
3 scarce; only a handful of records a year
4 regular; recorded on a reasonable number of crossings each summer
5 common; seen almost every crossing in summer, usually only in small numbers
6 abundant, seen almost every crossing in summer, usually in good numbers

Occurrence:
Those species that have only been recorded as strandings but have never been positively identified at sea are indicated.

Species        Biscay    Channel

North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis

1

 

Bryde's whale Balaenoptera brydei

1

 

Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata

4

3

Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus

5

1

Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis

4

1

Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus

2

 

Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae

2

1

Sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus

3

1

Pygmy sperm whale Kogia breviceps

1

 

Dwarf sperm whale Kogia sima

1 stranded

 

Cuvier's beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris

5

 

Northern bottlenose whale Hyperoodon ampullatus

3

1

Gervais' beaked whale Mesoplodon europaeus

1 stranded

 

Sowerby's beaked whale Mesoplodon bidens

3

 

True's beaked whale Mesoplodon mirus

1

 

Long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas

4

2

Short-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas

Stranded

 

Killer Whale (Orca) Orcinus orca

2

 

False killer whale Pseudorca crassidens

2

 

Pygmy killer whale Feresa attenuata

2

 

Melon-headed whale Peponocephala electra

1

 

Risso's dolphin Grampus griseus

3

 

Common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus

4

5

Striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba

5

1

Short-beaked common dolphin Delphinus delphis

6

5

Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus

1

 

White-beaked dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris

1

3

Rough-toothed dolphin Steno bredanensis

1

 

Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena

4

5