Pronounced changes in fauna, extending from the English Channel in the south to the Barents Sea in the north-east and off Greenland in the north-west, have occurred in the late 1920s, the late 1960s and again in the late 1990s. We attribute these events to exchanges of subarctic and subtropical water masses in the north-eastern North Atlantic Ocean, associated with changes in the strength and extent of the subpolar gyre. These exchanges lead to variations in the influence exerted by the subarctic or Lusitanian biomes on the intermediate faunistic zone in the north-eastern Atlantic. This strong and persistent bottom-up bio-physical link is demonstrated using a numerical ocean general circulation model and data on four trophically connected levels in the food chain – phytoplankton, zooplankton, blue whiting, and pilot whales. The plankton data give a unique basin-scale depiction of these changes, and a long pilot whale record from the Faroe Islands offers an exceptional temporal perspective over three centuries. Recent advances in simulating the dynamics of the subpolar gyre suggests a potential for predicting the distribution of the main faunistic zones in the north-eastern Atlantic a few years into the future, which might facilitate a more rational management of the commercially important fisheries in this region.