Dogger Bank IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

67,054 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Harbour porpoise – Phocoena phocoena

Criterion B (2), C (2)

Minke whale – Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Criterion B (2), C (2)

Grey seal – Halichoerus grypus

Criterion B (2), C (2)


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The Dogger Bank is a large shallow bank in the central North Sea. Prevailing currents and a unique bathymetry make this a highly productive area, and an important fishing ground for centuries. Multiple years of survey data show that the Dogger Bank IMMA represents important habitat for harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) as well as for common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Harbour porpoises occur in the area at higher density than in surrounding waters. The area is also used by white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), a substantial proportion of Europe’s Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus atlantica), and to a lesser degree, harbour seals (Phoca vitulina vitulina).

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion B2: Aggregations

The Dogger Bank, especially the slopes, encompass distinct very high-density areas for harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in all seasons. Data in this area were gathered by means of dedicated line-transect surveys, taking into account the proportion of missed sightings, from national monitoring (e.g. Gilles et al. 2009, 2012; Geelhoed et al. 2014) as well as the large-scale SCANS surveys (Hammond et al. 2013, 2021). Gilles et al. (2016) fitted generalized additive models of harbour porpoise density to 156,630 km of high-quality on-effort survey data with 14,356 sightings of porpoise groups collected over 9 yr (2005-2013). Selected predictors included static and dynamic variables, such as depth, distance to shore and to sandeel (Ammodytes spp.) grounds, sea surface temperature (SST) and proxies for fronts. Spatial predictions as surface layer output from different species distribution models clearly identify this area as very important habitat for harbour porpoises in the North Sea (Gilles et al. 2011, 2016; Waggitt et al. 2020; Geelhoed et al. 2022; Lacey et al. 2022).

The Doggerbank IMMA also has particular importance for minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Visual surveys showed seasonal high densities and habitat preference of minke whales along this offshore bank (de Boer 2010, Gilles et al. 2012, Geelhoed et al 2014) and spatial models predicted of species’ density hot spots in that area (Paxton et al. 2016; Waggitt et al. 2020; Geelhoed et al. 2022; Lacey et al. 2022).

The Dogger Bank is of high use for Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus atlantica). Approximately 10% of the UK and Ireland population of grey seals that are at sea at any one time are predicted to be within the IMMA area (Carter et al. 2022), and over 50% of those haul out within the Humber Estuary. This equates to over 15,000 grey seals from the UK predicted to be in that area at any one time. There is also extensive use of the IMMA by grey seals that haul out in the Netherlands.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas

The mixing of waters from the English Channel and the northern North Sea, combined with changes in seafloor topography around the shallow bank, creates an area of eddies that trap nutrients, thereby concentrating many fish species including sandeels (Family Ammodytidae), cod (Gadus morhua), herring (Clupea harengus), whiting (Merlangius merlangus) and sprat (Sprattus sprattus), all of which are important harbour porpoise prey. Distribution of harbour porpoises is thought to be prey driven and it is likely that the high densities of harbour porpoises that occur at the Dogger Bank are due to a particularly rich area for feeding (Ransijn et al. 2021).

The observed high densities and aggregations of minke whales around the Dogger Bank in spring and summer were related to meso-scale oceanographic and topographic features which likely link to increased foraging opportunities (Waggitt et al. 2020; Geelhoed et al. 2022; Lacey et al. 2022). Sandeel, shown to be an important food source for minke whales (Olsen & Holst 2001; Pierce et al. 2004), also has important habitats in this IMMA (Jensen et al. 2011). The Dogger Bank was one of the great North Sea fishing grounds in the 19th and 20th centuries, however, landings of the main roundfish species there have declined considerably since the 1980s due to overfishing.

The aggregations of grey seals within the IMMA Dogger Bank (see B2 Aggregations) are likely predominantly associated with foraging. Tracking data shows that for trips encompassing the Dogger Bank, the Dogger Bank is usually the distal area in their foraging trip from a haul out, so most likely corresponding to foraging area (rather than travelling). Furthermore, near or within the IMMA, tracked individuals often switch from directed relatively fast movements to movements that are analogous to Area Restricted Search (foraging; Russell 2016; Wyles et al. 2022).

Supporting Information

de Boer MN (2010) Spring distribution and density of minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata along an offshore bank in the central North Sea. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 408: 265-274

Carter, M.I.D., Boehme, L., Cronin, M.A., Duck, C.D., Grecian, W.J., Hastie, G.D., Jessopp, M., Matthiopoulos, J., Mcconnell, B.J., Miller, D.L., Morris, C.D., Moss, S.E.W., Thompson, D., Thompson, P.M., & Russell, D.J.F. (2022). Sympatric seals, satellite tracking and protected areas: habitat-based distribution estimates for conservation and management. Frontiers in Marine Science, 9, 875869.

Geelhoed, S. C. V., R. S. A. van Bemmelen, and J. P. Verdaat. 2014. Marine mammal surveys in the wider Dogger Bank area summer 2013. IMARES Report (no. C016/14) for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Ministry of Eco- nomic Affairs, 27 pp.

Geelhoed, S., Authier, M., Pigeault, R., Gilles, A. 2022. Abundance and Distribution of Cetaceans. In: OSPAR, 2023: The 2023 Quality Status Report for the North-east Atlantic. OSPAR Commission, London. Available at:

Gilles, A., Peschko, V., Scheidat, M., Siebert, U. (2012). Survey for small cetaceans over the Dogger Bank and adjacent areas in summer 2011. ASCOBANS working paper, AC19/Doc.5-08, 13 pp.

Gilles, A., Adler, S., Kaschner, K., Scheidat, M., Siebert U. (2011). Modelling harbour porpoise seasonal density as a function of the German Bight environment: implications for management. Endangered Species Research 14: 157-169

Gilles, A., Viquerat, S., Becker, E.A., Forney, K.A., Geelhoed, S.C.V., Haelters, J., Nabe-Nielsen, J., Scheidat, M., Siebert, U., Sveegaard, S., van Beest, F.M., van Bemmelen, R., Aarts, G. (2016). Seasonal habitat-based density models for a marine top predator, the harbor porpoise, in a dynamic environment. Ecosphere 7(6):e01367. 10.1002/ecs2.1367

Hammond, PS, Macleod, K, Berggren, P, Borchers, DL, Burt, ML, Cañadas, A, Des-portes, G, Donovan, GP, Gilles, A, Gillespie, D, Gordon, J, Hedley, S, Hiby, L, Kuklik, I, Leaper, R, Lehnert, K, Leopold, M, Lovell, P, Øien, N, Paxton, CGM, Ridoux, V, Rogan, E, Samarra, F, Scheidat, M, Sequeira, M, Siebert, U, Skov, H, Swift, R, Tasker, ML, Teilmann, J, Van Canneyt, O, Vázquez, JA. (2013). Cetacean abundance and distribution in European Atlantic shelf waters to inform conservation and management. Biological Conservation 164: 107-122

Jensen, H., A. Rindorf, P. J. Wright, and H. Mosegaard. 2011. Inferring the location and scale of mixing between habitat areas of lesser sandeel through information from the fishery. ICES Journal of Marine Science 68: 43–51.

Lacey C, Gilles A, Börjesson P, Herr H, Macleod K, Ridoux V, Santos MB, Scheidat M, Teilmann J, Vingada J, Viquerat S, Øien N, Hammond P. 2022. Modelled density surfaces of cetaceans in European Atlantic waters in summer 2016 from the SCANS-III aerial and shipboard surveys. Final report, August 2022.

Nachtsheim, D., Viquerat, S., Ramirez-Martinez, N.C., Unger, B., Siebert, U., Gilles, A. (2021). Small cetaceans in a human high-use area: Trends in harbour por-poise abundance in the North Sea over two decades. Frontiers in Marine Sci-ence. Frontiers in Marine Science 7:606609. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2020.606609

Olsen, E., Holst, J.C. (2001). A note on common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) diets in the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 3(2): 179–183.

Paxton, C.G.M., Scott-Hayward, L., Mackenzie, M., Rexstad, E., Thomas, L. (2016). Revised Phase III Data Analysis of Joint Cetacean Protocol Data Resources. JNCC Report No. 517. 196 pp.

Pierce, G. J., Santos, M. B., Reid, R. J., Patterson, I. A. P., Ross, H. M. (2004). Diet of minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata in Scottish (UK) waters with notes on strandings of this species in Scotland 1992-2002. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. United Kingdom 84, 1241–1244

Ransijn, J. M., P. S. Hammond, M. F. Leopold, S. Sveegaard, and S. C. Smout. 2021. Integrating disparate datasets to model the functional response of a marine predator: A case study of harbour porpoises in the southern North Sea. Ecology and Evolution 11:17458-17470.

Russell, D.J.F. (2016). Activity Budgets: Analysis of seal behaviour at sea. Report for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (OESEA-15-66).

Waggitt, J.J., Evans, P.G.H. , Andrade, J., Banks, A., Boisseau, O., Bolton, M., Brad-bury, G., Brereton, T.; Camphuysen, K.C.J.; Durinck, J.; Felce, T.; Fijn, R.C., Garcia-Baron, I.,Garthe, S., Geelhoed, S.C.V., Gilles, A., Goodall, M., Haelters, J., Hamilton, S., Hartny-Mills, L., Hodgins, N., Jessopp, M., Kavanagh, A.S., Le-opold, M.,  Lohrengel, K., Louzao, M., Markones, N.,  Martinez-Cadiera, J.,  O’Cadhla, O.,  Perry, S.L., Pierce, G.J., Ridoux, V., Robinson, K., Santos, B., Saavedra, C., Skov, H., Stienan E.W.M., Sveegaard, S., Thompson, P., Vaner-man, N., Wall, D., Webb, A., Wilson, J., Wanless, S., Hiddink J.G. (2020). Distribution maps of cetacean and seabird populations in the North-East Atlantic. Journal of Applied Ecology 57: 253-269. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13525

Wyles HME, Boehme L, Russell DJF and Carter MID (2022) A novel approach to using seabed geomorphology as a predictor of habitat use in highly mobile marine predators: Implications for ecology and conservation. Front. Mar. Sci. 9:818635. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2022.818635


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