Harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea – Please read and support!

Harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea are threatened with extinction. Unbelievable is that fishing methods with gillnets are still allowed in the habitat of harbor porpoises. Even in protected areas. Therefore, I support the campaign of the WDC in Germany "Rettet die Schweinswale - Stellnetze raus aus Schutzgebieten" (English: "Save the harbor porpoises - Gillnets out of protected areas"). Please read more about how you can support the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea!

A sea full of plastics. A habitat with high levels of pollutants that influence the survival of animals. Or noise pollution.

It is not easy to be a harbor porpoise - or any other animal - in the Baltic Sea.

Harbor porpoises are exposed to a great number of different threats. Plastics, environmental pollution or noise are just three of them.

Not to forget the underwater demolitions that have already resulted in the death of harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea. I wrote about these underwater demolitions in a previous blog entry. I heard about this topic for the first time during a whale watching tour in the Flensburg Fjord. Just a few weeks later after this tour an underwater demolition happened close to the Fehmarn Belt. Examinations of dead harbor porpoises after this event indicate that these underwater demolitions were responsible for the deaths of at least eight harbor porpoises. An official statement of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (German: "Bundesamt für Naturschutz") indeed confirms that these eight harbor porpoises seem to have died because of a blast injury to the ear.

Harbor porpoise

Information: Harbor porpoises do have a good sense of hearing. Like other toothed whales harbor porpoises use echolocation to navigate through their habitat. Harbor porpoises need their hearing, because they use echolocation to hunt for fish.

Luckily, they have stopped these underwater demolitions for now (although this does not mean that they have ended all underwater demolitions).

However, unluckily, too little is being done against one of the most important reason which is responsible for the death of numerous harbor porpoises.

The entanglement of harbor porpoises in gillnets.

In my previous blog entry I have already written that about 150 to 200 harbor porpoises beach every year along the coast of the Baltic Sea. The half of these deaths can be attributed to these gillnets.

In 2016 especially many beached harbor porpoises were found in Germany (206 in the North Sea and 221 in the Baltic Sea).

These numbers are high, and thus, very concerning. Although the harbor porpoise is considered as "Least Concern" according to the IUCN, there are endangered populations.

Book about whales and dolphins
Harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea

Like the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea. According to estimations there are probably about some thousands of harbor porpoises in the western part of the Baltic Sea, but only about a few hundreds in the central Baltic Sea.

The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation lists the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea finally as endangered (you can order this list on their website).

Therefore, it is so important to realize all possible conservation measures in order to protect not only the harbor porpoise, but also its habitat.

Although some parts of the habitat of harbor porpoises is protected (since 2007 there are 8 protected areas along the German coast and in 2016 these protected areas were declared as nature conservation areas), fishing methods like the one with gillnets are still "allowed". Gillnets threaten the survival chances of harbor porpoises, as these marine mammals are apparently not able to detect the nets, and thus, become entangled and drown.

Protected areas in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea

And this happens although harbor porpoises are actually protected animals!

Information: Did you know that it is not allowed to disturb, kill or catch a harbor porpoise according to EU and German law. But still it is allowed to use damaging fishing methods in these habitats. Not to forget the ship traffic or the noise pollution.

Therefore, it is quite surprising that there are still no restrictions in these habitats with respect to fishing.

One reason might be a lack of willingness of policymakers to enforce ecosystem friendly fishing methods in protected areas that will not only help harbor porpoises, but also contribute to a healthy ecosystem.

The campaign of the WDC

Therefore, the WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) in Germany campaign against damaging fishing methods in these protected areas. Although fishing could be restricted temporarily and spatially (e.g. adapting to the breeding season of harbor porpoises or the migration of sea birds), knowledge about positions of animals like the harbor porpoises is still insufficient to predict habitat use.

Stellnetze raus

I ask myself:

Why is it possible that it is still allowed to use gillnets and other damaging fishing methods that destroy the habitat of harbor porpoise and of many other animals in a protected (!) area?

Why is the protection of nature not perceived as more significant?

And why is there no load outcry?

Therefore, I support the current campaign of the WDC „Rettet die Schweinswale – Stellnetze raus aus Schutzgebieten“ (English: "Save the harbor porpoises - Gillnets out of protected areas").

Although the European Commission puts pressure on Germany, our politicians refuse to ban gillnets in protected areas!

The campaign of the WDC demand the following:

Gillnets out of protected areas.

Preventing by-catch.

Promoting alternative fishing methods.

This is important, because there are only about a few hundreds of harbor porpoises left in the central Baltic Sea.

Dead harbor porpoise

Information: The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) is an organization operating worldwide for the protection of whales and dolphins. Its aim is to protect important habitats of these marine mammals, reduce/eliminate by-catch in the fishing industry or support the closure of dolphinariums.

What can we - what can you - do?

  • Sign the petition of the WDC!
  • On the website of the WDC you can find a package of activities which you can order by email. You will find more information about this campaign, several photos and texts which you can use in your social media channels. The more people you reach, the more people will know about this. And hopefully, help the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea!

There are even more things you can do for the harbor porpoise and our oceans. Reduce plastics. Think about the consumption of fish, or in general, about your consumption habits.

Of course, this does not only help the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Seal, but the environment in general.

Furthermore, I believe - no, I'm convinced - that an encounter with a harbor porpoise or with any other whale or dolphin can contribute to the protection of these animals, and in general, the conservation of ecosystems, as in this way people might become more sensitive about environmental issues. And exactly this is the reason why this blog exists!

If you want to know more about my encounter with harbor porpoises in the Flensburg Fjord, please read my previous blog entry (link below).

More information about harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea

More information about the campaign of the WDC on their webseite

An encounter with harbor porpoises in the Flensburg Fjord

Red list of endangered species

Have you participated in this campaign? What was your reason? Have you ever met a harbor porpoise in the wild? Please let me know in the comments!

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