Experts highlight the situation of harbour porpoises in the Wadden Sea

They are the only native whales in the Wadden Sea and are among the smallest of their kind: the focus of an international symposium held on 11 April 2019 was on harbour porpoises and their role in this tidal ecosystem. In the framework of the event series “Harbour Porpoise Days”, over 40 representatives of the science and research sector, NGOs, as well as policy-makers from the Wadden Sea states Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands met in Wilhelmshaven to discuss “Bright future? Harbour porpoises in the Wadden Sea”. The event was organised by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS) and the UNESCO Wadden Sea World Heritage Visitor Center Wilhelmshaven.

“Harbour porpoises in the Wadden Sea really do not make research easy for us,” says Prof. Dr. Ursula Siebert, professor at the Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research and member of the Seal Expert Group of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWSC). “The turbid waters of the Wadden Sea and the tides make it difficult to observe the marine mammals. The meeting helps us align knowledge and practice in different regions.”

Speakers included Meike Scheidat, Wageningen Marine Research, who in her presentation on the conservation status of harbour porpoises in the Wadden Sea appealed to the involved states to meet their conservation obligations derived from the World Heritage status. She called on states to develop a common management plan. Jonas Teilmann from Aarhus University examined current and future monitoring methods applied in the Danish Wadden Sea. This was followed by a lecture on the food sources of the harbour porpoise by Holger Haslob, Thünen Institute for Sea Fisheries. Siebert informed on the anthropogenic activities and their effects on the marine mammal.

“Harbour porpoises have so far not been a main focus of the trilateral conservation and management efforts in the Wadden Sea,” says Sascha Klöpper, CWSS Deputy Executive Secretary. “While, for example, seals are counted trilaterally each year and benefit from a joint conservation agreement, much is still unknown about the harbour porpoise population in the Wadden Sea habitat.” In May 2018, in its Leeuwarden Declaration, the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation recognised the importance of the harbour porpoise as a top predator and key species for the area with a complicated interaction to be explored further. “With the symposium we want to analyse the current situation in order to identify possible trilateral measures aimed at protecting the harbour porpoise in the Wadden Sea,” says Rüdiger Strempel, CWSS Executive Secretary.

The conference was followed by a workshop, which, among other things, considered the outcomes of the symposium. There, experts formulated recommendations for the Trilateral Cooperation aimed at enhancing cross-border knowledge exchange and monitoring activities. The recommendations are submitted to the Wadden Sea Board, the governing body of the TWSC.

The symposium was supported by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.