A Guide to the Main Species Encountered in Western European Waters

This guide aims to provide an insight into the status, distribution and identification of the cetaceans and seabirds encountered in the MARINElife study areas, particularly in the English Channel and Bay of Biscay.

IUCN Status

Fulmar in the wake (©Mike Bailey/MARINElife)
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) monitors the conservation status of wildlife across the globe, and has developed a categorisation of threat levels, known as the Red List, to alert governments and decision makers to the vulnerability of an individual species. The status levels are assessed in terms of the global population and are:

  • Least Concern
  • Near Threatened
  • Vulnerable
  • Endangered
  • Critically Endangered
  • Extinct in the wild


Taxonomic Developments

Harbour Porpoise (©Mike Bailey/MARINElife)
There have in recent years been significant developments in the science of taxonomy (classification of species), with the development in the understanding of DNA. This has revealed a number of clear errors in past classification of species, and has identified a number of new species (so-called splits). We have attempted to be as up to date as possible with this fast moving subject, and where contention occurs (and it does) we have followed the IUCN approach. However, it is very likely that further splits will occur where isolated populations are revealed to be sufficiently genetically distinct, and this, inevitably, will have real implications for their conservation. 

The species accounts here aim to summarise the current information on their status, distribution, frequency of occurance in our waters, and their identification.