In 2003, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) published an Atlas of Cetacean distribution in north-west European waters to provide an overview of the distribution of all 28 cetacean species that were known in the waters off north-west Europe in the prior 25 years. The Atlas used data from different surveys and authors remarked that because “data from each of the three major survey programmes are stored in different formats… therefore required a degree of data normalisation"
To support an understanding of cetacean population trends, widescale surveys were needed. However, the long intervals between these types of surveys meant that there was a limited ability to maintain this understanding. While data collected by other sources (non-governmental organizations, marine industry, and academic and regional government-funded projects) was a growing resource, this data also often had limitations. However, “when combined along with widescale survey data, they provide an invaluable resource for a range of analyses to inform conservation and policy needs".
Working with the concept of combining data, in 2019, almost two decades on from the publication of the Atlas, the Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP) was developed by the JNCC, and funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with the vision of promoting and facilitating cetacean data standardization and maximizing value through collation and enabling universal access. ICES was brought on board to build and host the Joint Cetacean Data Programme database which mobilizes all effort-related at-sea data collected through vessel or observer/digital aerial methods in the Northeast Atlantic area in an effort to strengthen the evidence base for cetaceans. All data must meet the agreed data standard from multiple data providers collected through ship-based and aerial methodologies.
Resources and support for data providers submitting data to the JCDP can be found in the JCDP Info Hub. The portal and download function are now live, which is a huge step towards a better evidence base for cetacean science.
The newly established ICES Working Group for the Joint Cetacean Data Programme (WGJCDP) is responsible for the JCDP database and will provide governance for the data portal going forward. The group will drive the continued input of standardized data into the database, and develops analyses and data products in line with identified priorities across the cetacean research and policy community. “The success of the JCDP depends on not only continued submission of relevant, high-quality, standardised data; but also widespread application of the data and products to inform cetacean research and conservation."
WGJCDP will work in collaboration with the Working Group on Bycatch of Protected Species (WGBYC) and the Working Group on Marine Mammal Ecology (WGMME) to provide robust and relevant outputs in support of ongoing priorities and needs such as e.g. abundance and distribution trends and areas of persistent densities.
Nikki Taylor, JNCC, is Chair of WGJCDP and her goal is to bring together a relevant and motivated group of international experts to help realise the aims of the JCDP which include promoting the platform for cetacean survey datasets from across the northeast Atlantic, promoting the data standard to guide data collection and storage to enable a high-quality collation of data, developing open access data products for use in strengthening cetacean science and subsequent decision-making, and promoting the use of the collated dataset for use in bespoke analyses. Taylor hopes that, “the expert group will be the driving force in developing this project to make the most of the huge amount of data collection effort put in by researchers, governments, industry, NGOs and others to monitor these animals".
WGJCDP are actively recruiting members. If you are an expert on cetacean data, policy and analytical techniques who is interested in working towards growing and promoting the JCDP dataset, and identifying priorities for uses of the data holdings to develop data products and outputs, contact Nikki Taylor. The group aims to hold their first meeting in September.