Phocoena phocoena (Baltic Sea subpopulation) 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Phocoenidae

Scientific Name: Phocoena phocoena (Baltic Sea subpopulation)
Parent Species:
Common Name(s):
English Harbour Porpoise
French Marsouin Commun
Spanish Marsopa Común
Phocoena communis Lesson, 1827
Phocoena phocoena ssp. relicta Abel, 1905
Phocoena relicta Abel, 1905
Phocoena vomerina Gill, 1865
Taxonomic Notes: Several genetic and morphometric studies have concluded that the Baltic Porpoises are a separate subpopulation distinct from those living in Kattegat, Skagerrak and North Sea (e.g., Tiedeman et al. 1996, Huggenberger et al. 2002). A recent genetic study found no differences that would justify a separate Baltic subspecies (Palme et al. 2004).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered C2a(ii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K.A., Karczmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y. , Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B.
Reviewer(s): Rojas-Bracho, L. & Smith, B.D.
The current information on abundance provides evidence for a population size of fewer than 250 mature animals in the Baltic Sea subpopulation. A continued decline in mature animals can be inferred based on the current information on bycatches. All individuals in the Baltic Sea population belong to one subpopulation.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

In the Baltic Sea area the historic range apparently included all of the Kattegat/Skagerrak area, the Gulfs of Riga, Finland, and Bothnia, and much of the Baltic Sea proper. However, in the latter half of the 1900s, the range was reduced considerably, and currently porpoises are considered to be virtually absent in the north-eastern Baltic (Koschinski 2002).

Countries occurrence:
Denmark; Estonia; Finland; Germany; Latvia; Lithuania; Poland; Russian Federation; Sweden
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – northeast
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The abundance of the Baltic Sea stock has been estimated at 599 (CV=57%; 95% confidence interval = 200-3,300) (Hiby and Lovell 1996), of which about 50% or 300 would likely be mature (Taylor et al. 2007). Using a precautionary approach (Wade 1998), a minimum abundance estimate of mature animals would be the lower 20th percentile of the abundance estimate of mature individuals, equal to 192. Scheidat et al. (2004) reported that on the Oderbank east of Rügen, Baltic Harbour Porpoise densities between May and August 2002 were high relative to nearby Mecklenburg and Kiel Bights. There is evidence that porpoises in the Kattegat–Skagerrak area migrate to the North Sea (Teilmann et al. 2004).

Although there are no reliable estimates of pre-exploitation subpopulation size, harbour porpoises were once numerous in the Baltic proper (Kinze 1995).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The Baltic Sea is a semi-enclosed, relatively shallow shelf sea with some deeper basins of more than 200 m depth. There is a gradient in salinity with declining salinity towards east and north. Winter sea-ice normally covers the northern and eastern parts of the Baltic Sea.

In the Baltic Sea and vicinity, herring, sprat, and cod are the main prey items, and many prey species are benthic or demersal (Read 1999, Boerjesson et al. 2003).
Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Historically, large commercial catches occurred when porpoises migrated through the Danish Straits, mainly during winter and spring months. Annual catch levels averaged about 1,000 porpoises during most of the nineteenth century, increasing to 2,000 at the end of the century with a subsequent declining trend during the twentieth century until catches increased again in the 1940s. According to Kinze (1995), historical directed catches in the Baltic proper might have been higher than the catches in the Danish Straits.

Today, the most significant threat is incidental catches in fishing nets, primarily various types of gillnets (including both set gillnets and driftnets; Berggren 1994, Koschinski 2002). In addition to gillnets, Harbor Porpoises are also taken in smaller numbers in trawls (Berggren 1994). The current bycatch, known to be at least seven porpoises per year, is thought to be unsustainable, and Baltic porpoises may become extinct in the near future unless actions are taken to prevent future anthropogenic mortality (ASCOBANS 2000). Skóra and Kuklik (2003) recorded information on 62 observations of harbour porpoises in Polish waters during 1990-1999. Of these, 45 (75.6%) were reported bycaught in fishing gear, 10 observed at sea and 7 found dead on the shore. The bycatches occurred mostly in semi-driftnets (anchored at one end) set for salmonids and bottom-set gillnets set for cod.

The annual bycatch in German Baltic fisheries is assumed to be between 3-5 porpoises (ICES 2005). Eight porpoises in Poland and two in Latvia were reported bycaught in 2003-2004 (ICES 2005). In Finland two porpoises were reported bycaught in the period 1986-1999. No bycatches were reported from Finland after 1999 (ICES 2003).

Pollution is of particular concern in the Baltic Sea where toxic compounds (in particular PCBs) have been described as the likely source for reduced fertility and population decline in Baltic Sea pinnipeds (Helle et al. 1976, Helle 1980, Bergman and Olsson 1986, Bergman 1999). Porpoises from the Baltic Sea have up to 254% higher mean levels of PCBs than corresponding samples from the Kattegat and Skagerrak (Berggren et al. 1999, Bruhn et al. 1999), and currently, a number of lesions and pathological changes are reported from the Baltic Sea porpoises (Siebert et al. 1999, Clausen and Andersen 1988), including pneumonia, liver fibrosis, arthrosis, abscesses in muscles, lungs and other organs, skin lesions and heavy attacks from parasites (Siebert et al. 1999, Clausen and Andersen 1988). Therefore, pollution cannot be excluded as a contributing factor in the past decline in abundance in the Baltic Sea. However, a recent decline of PCB concentration in Baltic Sea biota has been observed (Bignert et al. 2003).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is listed in Appendix II of CITES.

The European Union adopted a Council Regulation 812/2004 entering into force in July 2004. This regulation is aimed at reducing the incidental catch of small cetaceans in fisheries in European Union waters. The regulation includes measures restricting Baltic Sea drift net fisheries, providing for mandatory use of acoustic deterrent devices (pingers) in some EU gillnet fisheries in the Baltic Seas, and the use of onboard observers on vessels of over 15 m in length. Immediate actions to reduce the magnitude of bycatches are necessary. A review of the progress of implementing the regulation was scheduled for 2007.

Errata [top]

Errata reason: Assessment edited to correct serious formatting issues.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 7 

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 

9. Pollution -> 9.2. Industrial & military effluents -> 9.2.3. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 

Bibliography [top]

ASCOBANS. 2000. Report of the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS) Baltic Discussion Group (ABDG), January 2001, Charlottenlund, Denmark.

Berggren, P. 1994. Bycatches of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the Swedish Skagerrak, Kattegat and Baltic waters, 1973-93. Reports of the International Whaling Commission (Special Issue) 15: 211-216.

Berggren, P., Ishaq, R., ZebÜhr, Y., Näf, C., Bandh, C. and Broman, D. 1999. Patterns and levels of organochlorines (DDTS, PCBs, non-ortho PCBs and PCFF/Fs) in male harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from the Baltic Sea, the Kattegat-Skagerrak seas and the west coast of Norway. Marine Pollution Bulletin 38: 1070-1084.

Bergman, A. 1999. Health condition of the Baltic grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) during two decades. Gynaecological health improvement but increased prevalence of colonic ulcers. Acta Pathologica, Microbiologica et Immunologica Scandinavica 107: 270–282.

Bergman, A. and Olsson, M. 1986. Pathology of Baltic grey seal and ringed seal females with special reference to adrenocortical hyperplasia: is environmental pollution the cause of a widely distributed disease syndrome? Finnish Game Research 44: 47-62.

Bignert, A., Asplund L. and Willander A. 2003. Comments concerning the national swedish contaminant monitoring programme in marine biota. Rapport till Naturvårdsverket, 2004-04-30. 135 pp.

Boerjesson, P., Berggren, P. and Ganning, B. 2003. Diet of harbor porpoises in the Kattegat and Skagerrak seas accounting for individual variation and sample size. Marine Mammal Science 19: 38-58.

Bruhn, R., Kannan, N., Petrick, G., Schulz-Bull, D.E. and Duinker, J.C. 1999. Persistent chlorinated organic contaminants in harbour porpoises from the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and Arctic waters. The Science of the Total Environment 237/238: 351-361.

Clausen, B., and Andersen, S.H. 1988. Evaluation of bycatch and health status of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in Danish waters. Danish Review of Game Biology 13: 1–20.

Helle, E. 1980. Lowered reproductive capacity in female ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in the Bothnian Bay, northern Baltic Sea, with special reference to uterine occlusions. Annales Zoologici Fennici 17: 147-58.

Helle, E., Olsson, M. and Jensen, S. 1976. PCB levels correlated with pathological changes in seal uteri. Ambio 5: 261-263.

Hiby, L. and Lovell, P. 1996. Baltic/North Sea aerial surveys. Unpublished report.

Huggenberger, S., Benke, H. and Kinze, C. 2002. Geographical variations in harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) skulls: support for a separate non- migratory population in the Baltic proper. Ophelia 56: 1-12.

International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. 2003. Report of the Working Group on Marine Mammal Ecology (WGMME). Hel, Poland, 25–29 March 2003. ICES CM 2003/ACE:03. 75 pp.

International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. 2005. Report of the Working Group on Marine Mammal Ecology (WGMME). Savolinna, Finland, 9-12 May 2005. ICES/ACE:05. 137pp.

IUCN. 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-2. Available at: (Accessed: 04 September 2016).

Kinze, C.C. 1995. Danish whale records 1575-1991 (Mammalia, Cetacea). Review of whale specimens stranded, directly or incidentally caught along the Danish coasts. Steenstrupia 21: 155-196.

Koschinski, S. 2002. Current knowledge on harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in the Baltic Sea. Ophelia 55: 167-197.

Palme, A., Laikre, L. and Ryman, N. 2004. Population genetics of harbour porpoise in Swedish waters a literature review. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Report 5419

Read, A.J. 1999. Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena (Linnaeus, 1758). In: S.H. Ridgway and R. Harrison (eds) Handbook of Marine Mammals. Volume 6: The Second Book of Dolphins and the Porpoises, pp. 323–355. Academic Press, San Diego.

Scheidat, M., Kock, K.H. and Siebert, U. 2004. Summer distribution of harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 6: 251-258.

Siebert, U., Joiris, C., Holsbeek, L., Benke, H., Failing, K., Frese, K. and Petzinger, E. 1999. Potential relation between mercury concentrations and necropsy findings in cetaceans from German waters of North and Baltic Seas. Marine Pollution Bulletin 38: 285–295.

Skóra, K.E. and Kuklik, I. 2003. Bycatch as potential threat to harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in Polish Baltic waters. NAMMCO Scientific Publications 5: 303-315.

Taylor, B.L., Chivers, S.J., Larese, J. and Perrin, W. 2007. Generation Length and Percent Mature Estimates for IUCN Assessments of Cetaceans. Administrative report LJ-07-01 available from Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, 8604 La Jolla Shores Dr., La Jolla, CA 92038, USA.

Teilmann, J., Dietz, R., Larsen, F., Desportes, G., Geertsen, B.M., Andersen, L.W., Aastrup, P.J., Hansen, J.R. and Buholzer, L. 2004. Satellitsporing af marsvin i danske og tilstødende farvande. Danmarks Miljøundersøgelser: Faglig rapport fra DMU. 484:86 pp.

Tiedemann, R., Harder, J., Gmeiner, C. and Haase, E. 1996. Mitochondrial DNA sequence patterns of Harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from the North and Baltic Seas. Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 61: 104–111.

Wade, P. 1998. Calculating limits to the allowable human-caused mortality of cetaceans and pinnipeds. Marine Mammal Science 14: 1-37.

Citation: Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K.A., Karczmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y. , Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B. 2008. Phocoena phocoena (Baltic Sea subpopulation) (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T17031A98831650. . Downloaded on 20 September 2018.
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