New population estimates released
Ten EU Member States have carried out a survey of the distribution and
abundance of whales and dolphins in European waters. Although most
populations appear to be stable, the WDC (Whale and Dolphin
Conservation) is concerned about the condition of some species.
A comprehensive large-scale survey – SCANS-III
– was carried out last July and August to assess the abundance and
distribution of whale and dolphin populations in European waters.
Especially equipped aircraft and ships were used to gather the data.
The result of this survey – the third in a series (after similar
surveys in 1994 and 2005) – was released earlier this month. It was
found that most species did not experience a population decline in the
last 20 years, offering some degree of hope.
For example, the most abundant species is the harbour porpoise, with
the population estimated at 466,569. This includes 345,373 in the North
Sea and 42,324 in the western Baltic Sea (Kattegat and Beltsee).
Compared to the results of the previous two surveys, the populations
did not appear to have experienced much significant change.
Scientific studies show that the reproductive capacity of the harbor
porpoises in the North Sea is strongly affected by exposure to
environmental toxins. Every year, several thousand perish in fishing
nets in Europe.
In the North Sea, the sea floor is “ploughed” by bottom
trawl. Even within protected areas, they are threatened by poisoning,
habitat destruction and the possibility of ending up as by-catch. Based
on the latest draft legislation of the Federal Government, things are
not set to change.
Environmental protection organisations in Germany,
including WDC, hold the opinion that the government have failed to
protect the marine environment in domestic waters.
According to the WDC, another major problem is the increasing amount of
noise in the oceans. In the German Bight, the population density of
harbor porpoises is much lower than in the surrounding areas. For
years, very loud construction methods had been used to construct most
of the offshore wind parks in Europe. Such sounds had been proven to
adversely affect the well-being of harbour porpoises. However, no one
knows whether the relatively low density of harbor porpoises here is
caused by this.
Fabian Ritter, a marine biologist at WDC, cautioned that we had to look at the overall picture. He said, “Although
the results are encouraging, it is badly ordered around the North Sea
and the Baltic Sea as a habitat for harbour porpoises and other
species. Unfortunately, the Grand Coalition (in Germany) is currently
working to ensure that the protection within the protected areas
remains ineffective. Attempts are even being made to weaken the Federal
Nature Conservation Act, particularly in the area of marine protection.
The new figures don’t change the fact that this approach is the
equivalent of the sale of natural resources in Germany. In addition, we
have so far hardly gained any insight into the extent to which climate
change affects the animals. There is still a lot to be done before we
can say that whales and dolphins are really doing better in Europe.”