When confronted with disturbing images of stranded and hunted whales or dolphins and porpoises entangled in fishing gear, many of us think of regions far from Europe. Sadly, however, those same practices are happening in European waters, as highlighted in a new report by leading scientists.

33 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises live in European seas, including enormous blue whales in the North Atlantic, sperm whales in the Mediterranean, orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar, and dolphins and harbour porpoises in the North Sea. Covered by a progressive and extensive legal framework, these European whales are – on paper – among the best-protected wildlife on the planet. In reality, however, they face a menacing array of threats to their individual well-being and to the survival of their populations as a whole.

These are the findings of “Under Pressure”, a new report published by European NGO, OceanCare. Bringing together leading scientists from all over Europe, the report provides a comprehensive overview of the myriad of threats and the state of survival and conservation of Europe´s whales and dolphins.

Despite their legal protection on paper, in particular by the EU’s Nature Directives and international conservation conventions, whales and dolphins continue to be hunted in European waters. They are in constant conflict with fishing activities and face an agonising death as bycatch of fishing fleets or entangled in abandoned fishing gear (“ghost nets”).

They live in polluted waters full of plastic debris and are constantly exposed to noise pollution from shipping, construction, underwater oil and gas exploration, and military activities. Their bodies are contaminated by chemical pollutants that negatively impact their immune systems and reproduction rates. Finally, they face the overarching threat to their survival that comes with climate change.

“Under Pressure” examines each of the 33 species that inhabit our European waters. With a comprehensive scope and including in-depth scientific studies, the report is set to be a standard bearer for years to come. It is intended as a guideline for European policymakers on the actions that need to be taken to ease the pressure and ensure the survival of Europe´s whales and dolphins.

The report calls for urgent action to avoid losing cetacean populations and species – a move that will simultaneously improve the health and resilience of European waters. Among its several recommendations are: a ban on hunting cetaceans by all European countries, a ban on the use of fishing gear that causes significant cetacean mortality, a ban on all oil and gas exploration activities in European waters, speed reduction for shipping, and proper management of Marine Protected Areas.