Viability of the Northeast Atlantic harbour porpoise and harbour seal populations (genetic and ecological studies)



Marine mammals of the North Eastern Atlantic are all listed among vulnerable, declined, or threatened species by international directives. Among these species, the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) and the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) are specially concerned due to their coastal distribution, in direct contact with shipping, fishing, and noise pollution and to its overall presence in reasonable number along the European coasts. Whereas some aspects such as the xenobiotic pollution are already largely studied, human impact is however hard to establish, mainly due to a blatant lack of information on marine mammals population ecology, density, distribution and diversity.

Project description


This project aims to assess the viability of the harbour porpoise and harbour seal populations in the North Sea (focusing mainly on its southern Bay) through

1. the characterisation of their genetic structure and diversity
2. a better understanding of their feeding ecology
3. the assessment of their susceptibility of being trapped accidentally in fishing nets


Following approaches will be considered to reach the objectives:

1. The genetic structure of these populations will be investigated using four complementary genetic markers: the D-loop region of the mtDNA, the microsatellite markers of the Y and of the autosomous chromosomes, and the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC).
2. The determination of stable carbon and nitrogen signatures (δ3C and δ15N) in the muscles and blood of harbour porpoises and harbour seals will provide some further insights on their respective diets.
3. The susceptibility to incidental capture will be investigated by both post-mortem investigations and systematic inventory of carcasses in fishing nets.

Interactions between the different partners and expected results

These integrated results combined with those acquired previously on chemical pollution will provide a precise assessment of the harbour porpoise and harbour seal population status and their long-term viability facing various aspects of anthropogenic stress.


1. The Laboratoire d'Océanologie (MARE Center, ULg) will perform δ13C and δ15N measurements in the muscles of marine mammals and will coordinate the present work. (Dr Krishna Das et Pr Jean-Marie Bouquegneau).

2. The genetic analyses are part of a doctoral research (PhD student : Michaël Fontaine) financed by the Fonds National pour la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS). This PhD thesis is realised in the Laboratory for Oceanology under the supervision of the Pr Jean-Marie Bouquegneau in collaboration with the Laboratory for Ecoethology and Zoogeography (Dr Johan Michaux, ULg)

3. The susceptibility to incidental capture will be studied by the Laboratorium voor Ecotoxicology en Polaire Ecologie van de VUB (Dr Ludo Holsbeek et Pr Claude Joiris, VUB) in collaboration with the Département de Pathologie Vétérinaire (Dr Thierry Jauniaux and Pr Freddy Coignoul, ULg).

Contact information


Jean-Marie Bouquegneau
University of Liège (ULg)
Laboratoire d’Océanologie
Sart Tilman B6
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 33 21
Fax: +32 (0)4 366 33 25


Krishna Das
Université de Liège (ULg)
Laboratoire d’Océanologie (MARE Center) B6c
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)43 66 48 29/ 3329
Fax: +32 (0)43 66 33 25

Johan Michaux
Université de Liège (ULg)
Laboratoire d’Ecoéthologie et de Zoogéographie
Quai Van Beneden 22
B-4020 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)43 66 50 74
Fax: +32 (0)43 66 5010

Michaël Fontaine
Université de Liège (ULg)
Laboratoire d’Océanologie (MARE Center) B6c
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)43 66 35 24
Fax: +32 (0)43 66 33 25

Claude Joiris & Ludo Holsbeek
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
Laboratorium voor Ecotoxicologie en Polaire Ecologie
Pleinlaan 2
B-1050 Brussel
Tel: +32 (0)2 629 34 14
Fax: +32 (0)2 629 34 38

Thierry Jauniaux & Freddy Coignoul
Université de Liège (ULg)
Département de Pathologie B43
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)43 66 40 75
Fax: +32 (0)43 66 45 65

Users committee

Dr Ursula Siebert,
Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste (FTZ),
Werftstrasse 6, D-25761 Büsum

Pr Peter Reijnders,
Alterra, Marine & Coastal Zone Research,
P.O. Box 167 1790 Denburg,
The Netherlands

Dr Krystall Tolley,
Zoology Department University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag X1, Matieland
7602, South Africa




Celtic-Biscay Shelf {Geographical scope}
North Sea {Geographical scope}
Marine and Coastal {Habitat type}


Name Role Amount
Science for Sustainable Development unknown


Name Role Start End
Michaux, Johan member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Fontaine, Michaël member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Joiris, Claude member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Das, Krishna member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Bouquegneau, Jean-Marie promotor 2003-12-01 2006-04-01


Name Role Start End
Laboratoire d'océanologie leader 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Unité de recherche en Zoogéographie member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Ecotoxicology and Polar Ecology member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01


Reference Role
Final report author

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

© 2012 by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform