Between the years 1990 and 2000, an attempt was made to determine the causes of death of 55 harbour porpoises stranded along the Belgian and northern French coasts. From 1990 to 1996, only five carcasses were collected as against seven in 1997, eight in 1998, 27 in 1999 and eight in 2000. The sex ratio was normal and most of the animals were juvenile. The most common findings were emaciation, severe parasitosis and pneumonia. A few cases of fishing net entanglement were observed. The main microscopical lesions were acute pneumonia, massive lung oedema, enteritis, hepatitis and gastritis. Encephalitis was observed in six cases. No evidence of morbillivirus infection was detected. Pneumonia was associated with bacteria or parasites, or both. The causes of death and the lesions were similar to those previously reported in other countries bordering the North Sea. The cause of the increased numbers of carcasses in 1999 was unclear but did not include viral epizootics or net entanglement. A temporary increase in the porpoise population in the southern North Sea may have been responsible.