Cetaceans sustain a depth of fascination that is almost without parallel in nature. Along with primates, they are among the most intelligent of all mammals; but while this might account for the allure of primates, the natural environment of cetaceans also adds to the interest of this order of animals. Encounters with cetaceans are difficult to contrive because they inhabit a world that is largely unseen. Despite increased attention in recent years, the oceans remain places of mystery; the ecological processes that underlie observable patterns in marine communities are largely unknown and seem almost arcane. Compared with many terrestrial mammals, little is known of cetacean natural history.
This Atlas aims to provide an account and snapshot of the distribution of all 28 cetacean species that are known certainly to have occurred in the waters off north-west Europe in the last 25 years, but including also narwhal and melon-headed whale for which records are as recent only as the 1940s. It cannot function as a 'where to watch cetaceans' guide and the reader is advised to read carefully the Methods chapter in order to aid interpretation of the maps. Most of the book comprises chapters covering individual species. In the majority of these, a brief account of the natural history of the species is presented, including information on identification, behaviour and social organisation, diet, and habitat preferences, inasmuch as such information is known.There follows some details of the species' worldwide distribution and its status in the north Atlantic, and then a description of its occurrence in north-west Europe accompanied by a map depicting this.