Dolphins and Take The Helm
Research carried out by the University of Plymouth and its partners has proved critical to the western English Channel being identified as an Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA).
IMMAs are discrete portions of habitat identified as having importance to marine mammal species, and while they are not in themselves statutory designations they represent suitable areas for conservation and for future MPAs.
They are designed to identify areas worldwide that may have been previously overlooked by Marine Protected Area designations.
The new IMMA stretches along the coastline from North Cornwall to East Sussex, including the Isles of Scilly and parts of the coast of France, and signifies the importance of the area for several marine mammal species.
It is an area that scientists and students from the University, onboard the sailing yacht Take the Helm, have surveyed extensively in recent years through annual cetacean surveys.
Working with partners across the region through the South Coast Bottlenose Dolphin Consortium, the University has also led research which has highlighted the vulnerability of England’s only resident bottlenose dolphins which also use this IMMA.
The consortium is a partnership of research and conservation organisations collaborating with the public to advance understanding and public awareness of bottlenose dolphins in the Channel.
Their recent findings reported that this population numbers only 40 individual dolphins, making them highly susceptible to decline.
It is hoped that this new status will help managers provide marine mammals in the Channel with the conservation priorities they desperately need.

This English Channel is one of the busiest stretches of coastal water in the world. Despite this, it is home to at least seven species of cetacean and both our species of seal. Our research has demonstrated the vulnerability of all those species, and some of the steps that need to be taken to protect them going forward. The new IMMA is a key step in that process, one which that can hopefully inspire policy makers to take note, and it is rewarding to know that our research has played a key role in making that happen.

Simon IngramSimon Ingram
Associate Professor of Marine Conservation

The identification of IMMAs is a global initiative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and coordinated by its Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force (MMPATF).
The western English Channel IMMA is one of 33 new ones introduced across the North East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea in February 2024, and they can all be viewed through the IMMA e-Atlas.

Marine Vertebrate Research Group

A group of scientists, based in the Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre (MBERC) and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who are interested in the ecology, physiology and behaviour of vertebrate predators in the world’s oceans.
Data collected by staff and students at the University contributes to long-term monitoring and conservation of marine mammal and seabird populations in the South West.
Humpback Whale