Cetaceans are considered ecosystem engineers and useful bioindicators of the health of marine environments. The Eastern North Atlantic is an area of great geographical and oceanographic complexity that favours ecosystem richness and, consequently, cetacean occurrence. Although this occurrence has led to relevant scientific research on this taxon, information on the composition of this research has not been assessed.
We aimed to describe and quantify the evolution of research on cetaceans in the Eastern North Atlantic, highlighting the main focal areas and trends.
We considered 380 peer‐reviewed publications between 1900 and 2018. For each paper, we collected publication year, research topics and regions, and species studied. We assessed differences among regions with distinct socio‐economic landscapes, and between coastal and oceanic habitats. To evaluate the changes in scientific production over time, we fitted a General Additive Model to the time series of numbers of papers.
Although research in this region has been increasing, the results show relatively little research output in North African and coastal regions within the study area. Moreover, except for four studies, research was restricted to a few miles around the coast of the main islands, leaving offshore regions less well surveyed. There was little research on genetics, acoustics, and behaviour. Most papers were focused on the Azores and Canary Islands, and mostly involved Tursiops truncatus, Delphinus delphis, and Physeter macrocephalus. Species considered Endangered or Near Threatened were the subjects of only 10% of the studies.
We suggest a greater research focus on beaked whales (Ziphiidae) in Macaronesia, as well as collaborative efforts between research teams in the region, by sharing data sets, and aiming to produce long‐term research. Moreover, a Delphi method approach, based on questionnaires answered by experts, could be attempted to identify priority research for cetaceans in these areas.