Distribution maps of cetacean and seabird populations in the North-East Atlantic

J.J. Waggitt* (Corresponding Author), P.G.H. Evans , J. Andrade, A.N. Banks, O. Boisseau, M. Bolton, Gareth Bradbury, T. Brereton, C.J. Camphuysen, J. Durinck, T. Felce, R.C. Fijn, I. Garcia-Baron, S. Garthe, S.C.V. Geelhoed, A. Gilles, M. Goodhall, J. Haelters, S. Hamilton, L. Hartny-MillsN. Hodgins, K. James, M. Jessopp, A.S. Kavanagh, M. Leopold, K. Lohrengel, M. Louzao, N. Markones, J. Martinez-Cediera, O. O'Cadhla, S.L. Perry, G. J. Pierce, V. Ridoux, Kevin P. Robinson, M.B. Santos, C. Saavedra, H. Skov, E.W.M. Stienen, S. Sveegaard, P. Thompson, N. Vanermen, D. Wall, A. Webb, J. Wilson, S. Wanless, J.G. Hiddink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
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Distribution maps of cetaceans and seabirds at basin and monthly scales are needed for conservation and marine management. These are usually created from standardised and systematic aerial and vessel surveys, with recorded animal densities interpolated across study areas. However, distribution maps at basin and monthly scales have previously not been possible because individual surveys have restricted spatial and temporal coverage.

This study develops an alternative approach consisting of: (1) collating diverse survey data to maximise spatial and temporal coverage, (2) using detection functions to estimate variation in the surface area covered (km2) among these surveys, standardising measurements of effort and animal densities, and (3) developing species distribution models (SDM) that overcome issues with heterogeneous and uneven coverage.

2.68 million km of survey data in the North‐East Atlantic between 1980 and 2018 were collated and standardised. SDM using Generalized Linear Models and General Estimating Equations in a hurdle approach were developed. Distribution maps were then created for 12 cetacean and 12 seabird species at 10 km and monthly resolution. Qualitative and quantitative assessment indicated good model performance.

Synthesis and applications. This study provides the largest ever collation and standardisation of diverse survey data for cetaceans and seabirds, and the most comprehensive distribution maps of these taxa in the North‐East Atlantic. These distribution maps have numerous applications including the identification of important areas needing protection, and the quantification of overlap between vulnerable species and anthropogenic activities. This study demonstrates how the analysis of existing and diverse survey data can meet conservation and marine management needs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-269
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number2
Early online date10 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

JJW, PGHE, JGH and SW are supported through the NERC/DEFRA funded Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (MERP: NE/L003201/1). We thank the editors and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. A full list of acknowledgements are provided in the supplementary information (Appendix S4-S5). No authors have any conflicts of interest to declare.

Data availability statement: Distribution maps are available via the Dryad Digital Repository https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.mw6m905sz (Waggitt, 2020). Any requests for survey data should be addressed to their owners. Contact details of the owners are provided in the supporting information (Table S5). In future, some survey data may become open access. Please contact PGHE (peter.evans@bangor.ac.uk) for further details.


  • species distribution models
  • detection function models
  • North Sea
  • Celtic Sea
  • Bay of Biscay
  • English Channel
  • Irish Sea
  • Hebrides


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