For the first time, a conservation trust extends its study of marine species all year round, completing the winter months. This crucial data collected help to understand the presence and behaviour of some of the country’s most spectacular marine wildlife.
A study of marine species is extended to all year round
Record numbers of volunteers took part in research expeditions organised by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust last year. It helped to launch a new year-round programme of monitoring marine mammals and basking sharks in the Hebrides.
Scotland’s west coast seas are globally important habitats for cetaceans. But so far there has been little year-round data about these animals in the region.
An officer at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust said: “Our new winter surveys offers us the opportunity to study the year-round presence and distribution of some remarkable species for the first time”.
“Our established summer expeditions, when most species are present in Hebridean waters, remain vital although embarking on year-round surveys will shed new light on marine wildlife. It will help us answer some questions”.
As well as increasing understanding of cetacean and basking shark behaviour, this groundbreaking research helps detect trends and changes in the marine environment – including increases in underwater noise pollution and emerging threats like entanglement. All of this scientific evidence helps to develop informed action to protect marine wildlife.
In 2019, Silurian covered over 5,000 nautical miles during 23 research expeditions – stretching from as far north as Cape Wrath, south to Islay and Jura, and as far west as the Flannan Isles.
“The Trust’s surveys are among my most memorable experiences”
The expeditions depend on paying volunteers, who work as citizen scientists alongside researchers. Last year saw a 24 per cent increase in the number of these volunteers, with more than 120 individuals notching up over 700 hours of surveying.
Already in this first year of year-round surveys, the team recorded four species of cetacean in the winter months. These sightings add to a growing body of evidence that the Hebrides is an important area for certain species year-round. In total, the researches recorded nine marine mammal species in 2019.
Bruce Crawford, a volunteer during both summer and winter surveys, said: “The Trust’s surveys are among my most memorable experiences. It’s an amazing feeling to know this work could help secure the future of these remarkable marine animals. We also had a chance to explore some of Britain’s most remote and beautiful places.”
Scottish Natural Heritage partly funds this research expedition. Fiona Manson, SNH Marine Advisory Officer, said: “We’re delighted to support the Trust’s research expeditions. It is great to see so many volunteers getting involved. With their help, we are increasing our knowledge of a wide range of internationally important species in Scottish waters throughout the year. This will ensure that we can target conservation measures where they are most needed in future.”
With marine mammals at risk from human activities, ongoing and long-term research is crucial. Findings from this kind of expeditions have contributed to the designation of a protected and expand the knowledge of the state of the 6th Mass Extinction.