Ballena de los vascos, In Graells (1889) Las Ballenas en las Costas Oceánicas de España

Significant human impact on ecosystems started millennia ago, but such change took place gradually and with little recorded evidence, and as a result its full scale is still largely underestimated. This has pervasive impacts on our understanding of nature, such as of species’ natural distribution and abundance. It also affects decisions for the future management and conservation of species and ecosystems, including for defining appropriate restoration targets. With the conventional ecological record rarely being deeper than 20-50 years, going further back in time requires tools and data from a variety of other disciplines.

In the MORSE project we focused on marine mammals, a group with a long and strong relationship with humans, and that plays a major role in shaping marine ecosystems. Understanding the historical distribution and abundance of marine mammals, many of which have been highly depleted after centuries of exploitation but now legally protected, has important applications to conservation and management strategies. We compiled information on the past and current distribution and abundance of marine mammals, as well as on their ecology, combining species-focused with region-focused reviews, and a diversity of sources from ecological, historical and archaeological references, and taking advantage of a network of collaborators in History, Archaeology, Philology and Genetics. Our review was global in scope, but we focused particularly on whales in the North Atlantic Ocean and in the Mediterranean Sea, both regions having a very long history of human occupation.

The MORSE project was funded by the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche, ANR; call CEP&S 2011 - Project ANR-11-CEPL-006). It ran from November 2011 to October 2015 and is now formally closed, but this website will continue to be updated as new results are published, so please visit us again!

Contact: Ana Rodrigues.