May 052016

August 2004 SilurianWith thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Electronic navigation safety technology is to be used to study the potential impacts of marine traffic on whale, dolphin and porpoise species off western Scotland in a new season of research expeditions launched by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust this week.

For the first time, scientists and trained volunteers onboard the conservation charity’s specialized research yacht Silurian will use an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder to collect detailed data on other vessels’ movements.

This will be combined with sightings and underwater acoustic monitoring of cetaceans – the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises – to gain new insights into how species are affected by ships’ movements and noise.

AIS – an automatic tracking system that electronically identifies and locates nearby vessels, continuously transmitting details of their identity, position, speed and course – is more commonly used in navigation safety, allowing ships to ‘see’ each other in all conditions.

With marine traffic from a large range of industries growing, known threats or pressures for cetaceans from shipping include ship-strikes – in which vessels accidentally hit whales – and noise pollution from poorly designed or poorly maintained vessels, which can mask out whale sounds used for communication and navigation.

Dr Conor Ryan, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Science Officer, said:

“This innovative approach provides us with an opportunity to enhance our long-term research, which is providing unprecedented insights into the distribution and range of cetaceans in Scotland’s seas, as well as the challenges they face – including the unintentional consequences of human activities.

“The Hebrides may seem like a wilderness, but human impacts on the marine environment are significant – and likely to increase with expansions in marine industries, such as aquaculture and renewable installations. Strengthening scientific understanding is crucial if we are to help industries ensure that their impacts on Scotland’s remarkable whales, dolphins and porpoise populations are minimal.”

The new AIS transponder on Silurian will also allow closer public engagement with the trust’s research expeditions. By using the research vessel’s unique Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number 232004280, people will be able to follow Silurian’s progress around Scotland’s west coast in real-time via

Equipping Silurian with AIS technology has been made possible by a grant of £94,000 from the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund. This grant has also funded a major refurbishment of the yacht, including an environmentally friendly and long-lasting copper coating for the hull that will ensure the vessel remains seaworthy for the next decade, alongside other activities.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust – based in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull – is recruiting paying volunteers for its surveys. Between May and October, there will be 12 separate expeditions, each lasting between one and two weeks. This includes two ‘Teen Teams’ reserved for 16-17 year olds.

These volunteers will work and sleep on Silurian, receiving specialist training and working with scientists – conducting visual surveys, acoustic monitoring, and cetacean identification through dorsal fin photography. They will also be able to develop sailing and navigation skills as they visit some of Britain’s most remote and wild corners.

Silurian has been the platform for Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s unique research programme since 2002, welcoming aboard over 60 volunteers annually, surveying tens of thousands of nautical miles and logging every cetacean encounter made. This year, the yacht will welcome her 800th volunteer aboard. The yacht is also used as a floating classroom for marine conservation education for schoolchildren and students.

Western Scotland’s seas are one of Europe’s most important habitats for cetaceans with 24 of the world’s estimated 92 cetacean species recorded in the region to date. Many of these are national and international conservation priority species.

As well as strengthening knowledge about cetaceans and contributing to recommendations to safeguard them, the trust’s surveys are important because cetaceans are apex predators at the top of the marine food web, and so can act as indicators of the marine environment’s overall health.

The 2016 surveys depart from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, Kyle of Lochalsh or Ullapool. The new addition of Ullapool as a rendezvous point will allow the trust to carry out more surveys in the remoter corners of its study area. Areas covered depend on the weather but will range from Mull of Kintyre in the south, Cape Wrath in the north and St Kilda in the west.

Participation costs cover boat expenses, accommodation, training, food and insurance, and support the charity’s research. For details, email, call 01688 302620 or visit

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Jan 212016

Cetacean Rescue Unit1With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

The Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit based in Gardenstown has helped area cetaceans for 19 years now; and it is in urgent need of funds.  The CRRU is dedicated to the understanding, welfare and protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) and the marine environment they live in.

The CRRU is a small non-profit research organisation based in northeast Scotland working for the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Scottish waters through scientific investigation, environmental education and the provision of a 24 hour veterinary service for sick, injured and stranded individuals. Conservation and protection are the CRRU’s priorities.

Conducting advanced training courses in marine wildlife rescue, the CRRU also operates the only specialist response team in Scotland for live-stranded whales and dolphins. The fully-equipped team (scientists, veterinarians and qualified volunteers) are skilled and experienced to act and advise at the scene of a stranding with first aid, veterinary treatment and re-floatation procedures as required.

More information and photos of its work can be found on its Facebook page.

Dr Kevin Robinson of the Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit is currently appealing for funds for much-needed new vessels; the existing ones are some 12 years old.  The link to donate is here:

Dr Robinson said:

“Our present vessels (Ketos and Orca II) have been working tirelessly for over 12 years now, and are now on their last legs and proving too small for
working conditions and too expensive to maintain at this time. The larger, replacement boat sought by the charity will not only have the additional space needed for a larger crew and all our research, rescue and veterinary equipment, but most of all will be reliable and safe for the teams working in often inclement conditions.”

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Dec 112014
(small) Clet_the_bottlenose_dolphin_copyright_Nic_Davies_(2)

Clet the bottlenose dolphin bow rides a ferry in the Sound of Mull. © Nic Davies.

With thanks to Richard Bunting.

A solitary bottlenose dolphin that has appeared in Scotland’s Sound of Mull this week is an internationally famous individual known as Clet – who after becoming a celebrity in France and Ireland has now been recorded in Scotland for the first time, say researchers at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

The rare sighting of a lone bottlenose dolphin following a ferry between Oban and the Isle of Mull on Tuesday 2 December triggered some rapid detective work at the conservation charity. Bottlenose dolphins are not unusual in the Hebrides, even during winter – but the normally social species usually occurs in small groups, with individuals rarely seen alone

By using photo identification techniques – studying the dolphin’s distinctively scarred dorsal fin – the trust’s experts identified the animal as a renowned individual that made international headlines through its unusual behaviour when last seen in September – in Galway in Ireland, some 600 kilometres away from the Sound of Mull.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that Clet has been recorded in Scotland, and in fact this is the furthest north he has been recorded to date,” said Dr Conor Ryan, Sightings Officer at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

“Bottlenose dolphins are usually considered to be resident to certain areas, so long-distance international movements such as this challenge our understanding of this species, and also challenge our ability to protect them using Marine Protected Areas alone.”

The male dolphin was named by locals from Cap Sizun, Brittany in France, where he used to follow fishing boats between 2008 and 2010. He then travelled to Cornwall, Devon and Wales before appearing in West Cork in Ireland, where he spent several weeks interacting with boats. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group then recorded his movements along Ireland’s west coast to Valentia, County Kerry.

The last recorded sighting of Clet was on 28 September 2014 at Inis Óirr off Galway Bay. Although not confirmed, he was thought to be responsible for a dolphin attack on a group of swimmers in Salthill, Galway. The RNLI ensured that the swimmers were able to get to shore without harm, but unfortunately the incident resulted in some sensational news headlines.

Pádraig Whooley, Sightings Officer for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said:

“We think it’s remarkable that Clet’s movements can be tracked to the Irish south and west coasts from France via English and Welsh waters, using images from the general public. The addition of Scotland after a two month interval brings his known tally of passport stamps to five countries and counting, and shows the need for international collaboration when trying to monitor these highly mobile marine mammals.”

Solitary dolphins such as Clet do not pose a threat to people in boats, but can be aggressive towards swimmers. The biggest danger to solitary dolphins is injury from boats, as the animals appear to seek out vessels to interact with. The deep gash on Clet’s dorsal fin may be from coming to close to boat propellers.

Wildlife photographer Nic Davies, who recorded Clet close to shore from Craignure on the Isle of Mull this week, said:

“I was out photographing otters when I heard a loud blow sound just out from the shore, and then I spotted the dolphin heading at speed towards a departing ferry.”

Clet may remain in the Sound of Mull area for weeks or even months, as he has done in other areas. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is asking boat owners to be respectful and to give Clet the space he needs, and hopes that the dolphin will continue to enthrall onlookers from the shore and from the ferries, which he has been bow riding in the Sound of Mull.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is asking the public to report sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – and basking sharks at The charity’s extensive Community Sightings Network uses such sightings as a key way of strengthening understanding of the local marine environment and of these spectacular animals.

High quality images of cetaceans and basking sharks can be emailed to the trust at This helps in photo identification research – a technique that allows individual cetaceans or basking sharks to be identified by their distinctive markings, often shedding new light on population sizes, social dynamics, and areas of important habitat.

Volunteers are also wanted to join the trust’s research expeditions on its specialized yacht Silurian next summer, working alongside marine scientists.

The bottlenose dolphin is a highly protected species under EU law, and the Hebrides marks the most northerly reaches of their geographical range. Some of the biggest bottlenose dolphins in the world have been recorded in Scotland, where individuals usually grow to 3.5 metres in length.  Over 70 individuals have been catalogued in western Scotland.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is working to secure the future of western Scotland’s cetaceans and the Hebrides’ globally important marine environment through education, research and engagement with local communities. For details call 01688 302620 or visit

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Apr 222013

With thanks to Richard Bunting.

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) has announced details of its 2013 surveys, in which volunteers and marine scientists will carry out pioneering research into the lives of whales, dolphins and porpoises off Scotland’s west coast.

The surveys – carried out from the charity’s research yacht Silurian between May and September – will gather data on the numbers and behaviour of whales, dolphins and porpoises, known collectively as cetaceans.

Research findings will support effective conservation of the extraordinary biodiversity to be found in Hebridean waters and future management of cetacean populations, as well as contributing to HWDT’s environmental education work.

Olivia Harries, HWDT Biodiversity Officer, said:-

“Given environmental and climate change, action to monitor and conserve Scotland’s spectacular whales, dolphins and porpoises is more important than ever. With 2013 being the Year of Natural Scotland, we’re keen for people to take part in our surveys.

“Volunteers will effectively become marine mammal scientists during their time with us – contributing directly to knowledge and conservation of cetaceans, and with opportunities to develop new skills and to visit some of the most remote and wild parts of the British Isles.”

The seas off western Scotland are one of the most important European habitats for cetaceans, and have remarkably high levels of biodiversity. The long and complex coastline, interaction of currents and wide variety of habitats provide a rich and diverse environment for marine life, including cetacean species typical of both warm and cold oceans.

Twenty-four species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been recorded in the region, and many of the species are national and international conservation priorities.

Each survey trip will see up to six volunteers join marine scientists to work onboard Silurian for seven to 10 days. Volunteers will contribute directly to research work, receive training in scientific techniques and in species identification, and gather comprehensive data through acoustic and visual methods.

Photography of dorsal fins will help to identify individual cetaceans, and to build greater understanding of species’ movements and interactions. The high frequency sounds of harbour porpoises and white-beaked dolphins will be recorded using a hydrophone (underwater microphone) and analysed using specialist software.

Until recently, very little was known about Hebridean cetaceans, but HWDT’s work is strengthening knowledge about their distribution, movements, habitats and behaviour.

Over the past 10 years, Silurian has travelled more than 61,000 kilometres surveying Hebridean waters from Islay to Cape Wrath and west of the Western Isles. Key findings include the discovery that the region is home to 55 bottlenose dolphins – the smallest resident population in the UK – and hosts one of the highest densities of harbour porpoise in Europe.

Photo identification work has catalogued 125 minke whales, some of which are thought to stay in Hebridean seas all year round; revealed that the region supports the UK’s only resident population of killer whales, consisting of nine individuals whose conservation status is believed to be critical; and has catalogued over 10,000 basking sharks, with two feeding and breeding hotspots of these gentle giants also discovered.

Without the participation of volunteers, much of this groundbreaking research would not have happened. Volunteer Lars Rumpel said:-

“Those 12 days sailing around the Hebrides changed my life. If I could, I would dedicate my whole life to the aid of nature.”

Despite the diversity and abundance of cetacean species in the Hebrides, there are few management strategies dedicated specifically at ensuring their continued survival in the region. HWDT collects data with the specific purpose of informing policy makers and generating recommendations for effective marine management.

The charity’s data on killer whale, harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphin is being directly applied to current management procedures. White-beaked dolphin, minke whale and basking shark are future priorities for HWDT research, and in coming years these species will also have specific management plans based on HWDT data, to ensure their continued survival in the area.

HWDT is dedicated to enhancing knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s whales, dolphins and porpoises and the Hebridean marine environment through education, research and working within local communities as a basis for the lasting conservation of species and habitats.

Places on the surveys, which depart from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, are available for 17-26 May and 16-26 September. Participation costs between £900-£1,200, and include accommodation and food onboard Silurian. Income generated supports HWDT’s research programme. For more details call 01688 302620 or visit

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