Hey Whale Scientists, You Can Now Access A New Free Cetacean Database For Research!

This week, we are partnering with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), aka the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international conservation. They just launched a new tool for conservation called the Joint Cetacean Data Program (JCDP). By accessing the portal, researchers can now obtain tons of sighting data to study cetaceans’ movements, distribution, etc. Find out more about the platform in this post.

The key is data

Maximizing the value of quality data by ensuring that it flows to a wider range of researchers is absolutely key for future research. New data can help us get a better understanding of the natural environment so we can effectively protect marine ecosystems. But there are many barriers which mean this doesn’t always happen effectively.

A team within the JNCC is tackling this challenge, leading the way with the Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP). This program aims to standardize cetacean survey data collected from boats and aerial platforms. The goal is to make this data universally accessible for science, conservation, and management. It could help fill knowledge gaps and lead to a better understanding of cetacean abundance and distribution across the Northeast Atlantic region. 

Credit: Niki Clear

The challenge with studying cetaceans

Cetaceans spend only a tiny fraction of their lives at the surface where they are visible to us. They have complex life histories, they can be elusive, particularly deep-diving species, and are often wide-ranging. As a result, field research for cetacean species is considerably labor-intensive and expensive. This means any data collected is valuable and could add much more to our knowledge beyond its intended purpose. 

Collating data from multiple sources to get a better understanding of the natural environment is nothing new. This approach has provided the basis for marine protected area designations, for international status assessments, and has informed management decisions such as marine noise mitigation. 

Credit: Niki Clear

But the process to bring these data together can be long-winded and labor-intensive. First, we need permission to use the data from the data owner. Then we need to transform the data into a standard format so that we can analyze it together. Finally, we need to develop an appropriate analysis approach. Often permission to use these data is only given for a specific purpose. So, if we end up using the data for something else the process must start again from scratch. JNCC, Defra, and others recognized the importance of these collated data analyses and of the associated difficulties. 

Therefore, the JCDP mission is to promote and facilitate cetacean data standardization and maximize value through collation and enabling of universal access.

The Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP)


The JCPD has developed an agreed data standard; a set format for cetacean survey data which ensures that the data is of high quality and accessible. Each dataset in the JCDP also has associated metadata records. These records give information about the data; how it was collected, who collected it, and how it was prepared for the JCDP.

The JCDP team has also created a free online portal that allows people to submit, search and download cetacean survey data. Researchers can also consult the JCDP Information Hub. It gives background information about the project and provides resources to help data submitters and users use the platform. Finally, the platform offers guidance on how to design high-quality cetacean surveys.

We are encouraging individuals, organizations, industries, institutions, and government bodies to contribute to the JCDP. It will add to a growing shared resource and be part of the movement towards open and accessible research data. 

Credit: Niki Clear

Did you enjoy this post? Make sure to also check out our other resources for whale science here:

Photo-ID is the heart of whale research
Niki Clear

Niki Clear is a Marine Mammal Advisor with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Originally from Ireland, Niki studies Zoology at Edinburgh Napier University and spent several years volunteering with marine conservation research institutes and NGOs in Ireland and around the UK. Niki worked volunteered and worked for 8 years with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust in the UK, working across both the marine conservation team and the data and evidence department building expertise in cetacean conservation, data management, spatial analysis, and citizen science.

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