Feb 102017

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Record numbers of three dolphin species off Scotland’s west coast were recorded by conservation charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in its marine research expeditions in 2016. 
From the trust’s specialized research yacht Silurian, volunteers and scientists recorded 2,303 individual common dolphins, 42 bottlenose dolphins and 94 Risso’s dolphins – the figures for all three species being the highest ever recorded in its annual survey seasons.

Average annual figures documented over the previous 14 years were 463 individual common dolphins, 14 bottlenose dolphins and 12 Risso’s dolphins. 

For common dolphins, these records range from 0 individuals encountered in a couple of the earlier field seasons to 1,862 during the 2007 season. 

Dr. Lauren Hartny-Mills, Science Officer of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, said:

“The reasons for the high number of sightings of these charismatic dolphin species – and the broader effects on the marine environment and other species – remain unclear. But the intriguing findings highlight the importance of on-going monitoring and research – to strengthen our understanding of what is taking place in Hebridean waters, and to ensure well-informed conservation action.”

The latest findings were made in a research season lasting from May to October 2016, as part of the trust’s unique long-term citizen science project monitoring whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – as well as basking sharks in the Hebrides.

These annual research surveys depend on paying volunteers, with 71 welcomed aboard in 2016 – working with marine scientists on visual surveys and acoustic monitoring with underwater microphones or hydrophones, and identifying individual cetaceans through photography.

The Isle of Mull-based organisation now holds data from more than 95,000km of survey effort. It aims to pass the 100,000km milestone during 2017, and it is currently recruiting volunteers to support this by working as citizen scientists onboard Silurian for periods of almost two weeks from April to September.

Alison Lomax, Director of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, said: “The impressive range of species documented in our at-sea surveys last year is a powerful reminder that Scotland’s west coast ocean environment is home to remarkable marine life. Long-term scientific studies of this globally-important habitat and its inhabitants are crucial if we are to ensure a secure future for the Hebrides’ spectacular cetaceans.”

During 2016, Silurian – previously used in filming of the BBC’s The Blue Planet series – covered more than 5,000 nautical miles, compared to an average of almost 4,000 miles annually over the previous 14 years. Its crew documented more than 1,300 cetaceans and basking sharks, and recorded almost 700 hours of underwater detections of cetaceans using specialist listening equipment.

Notable highlights included a wonderful encounter with a humpback whale in the northern Minch – an hour was spent with the massive creature lunge feeding, tail slapping and swimming under Silurian, alongside a large group of common dolphins.

2016 also saw Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s first expeditions running out of Ullapool, allowing for surveys in the more northern and western parts of the charity’s study area.

Western Scotland’s seas are one of Europe’s most important cetacean habitats. With a long, complex coastline, strong ocean currents and a variety of habitats, the Hebrides is one of the UK’s most biologically productive areas. So far 24 of the world’s estimated 92 cetacean species have been recorded in the region – many being national and international conservation priority species.

Yet marine ecosystems are fragile, and cetaceans face increasing stress from human activities – including climate change, entanglement, pollution, underwater noise and habitat degradation.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has been monitoring marine mega fauna in the Hebrides since 1994, and from Silurian since 2002. Its surveys are partly funded by a generous grant from Scottish Natural Heritage, which supports the training of future mammal scientists.

The charity is the only organisation collecting long-term data on such a large scale on Scotland’s west coast, and its volunteers and scientists have now recorded more than 12,000 cetaceans. A short film about surveys can be seen at https://youtu.be/M_3r-GKfh8o.

Participation costs for the forthcoming 2017 surveys cover boat expenses, accommodation, training, food and insurance, and support the trust’s research. For details of how to take part, contact volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620, or visit www.hwdt.org.


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Jul 082016

Sea Shepherd Global’s New Patrol Vessel.

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Sea Shepherd Global has launched its latest weapon in the battle to protect the world’s oceans; the new patrol vessel, Ocean Warrior.
After 18 months of construction by Dutch shipbuilding company, Damen, Ocean Warrior was lowered into the waters of Antalya Harbour in Turkey last Friday.

“This is a momentous day for Sea Shepherd, and for all of our supporters, and a bad day for poachers,” said CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, Captain Alex Cornelissen.

“The launch of the Ocean Warrior marks a new era for our organisation, as we now have a ship with the speed and capabilities to match the fastest poaching vessels in the world.”

Purchased thanks to the support and generosity of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery in the United Kingdom and the Svenska Postkod Stiftelsen in Sweden, Ocean Warrior is now the fifth vessel in Sea Shepherd Global’s current fleet of conservation ships, and the fifteenth in the organisation’s history.

Geert Vons, Director of Sea Shepherd Netherlands, said,

“We are extremely grateful to the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Svenska Postkod Stiftelsen for their generosity, which has enabled us to build the Ocean Warrior. This new vessel will provide our crews with a huge advantage on the high-seas, increasing our capacity to defend precious wildlife in our oceans.”

Ocean Warrior will make its maiden voyage this September, when the ship sails to Amsterdam under the command of Captain Cornelissen. However, details about the ship’s first official anti-poaching campaign remain under-wraps.

“We can not reveal details about the Ocean Warrior’s activities beyond Amsterdam as yet. However, we are confident that our supporters will be very pleased with a campaign announcement that we have coming up in the next few months,” said Cornelissen.

Sea Shepherd were instrumental in protecting wildlife including seals in the Gardenstown area in the past, and continue to be interested and active in North East Scotland.

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Jul 082016

HWDT smartphone app (medium)With thanks to Richard Bunting.

A new smartphone app allowing whale-watch operators and other seafarers to record sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises is to be launched next year by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, thanks to an award of more than £79,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The innovative project will allow wildlife tour operators and enthusiasts to systematically record the locations of marine mammals using technology available in their pocket.

The app will work at sea without phone reception as it will rely on GPS only, uploading data once internet coverage is available.

Alongside the app development, a programme of free training events and workshops for the public will be held throughout the west of Scotland to train volunteers how to identify and record marine wildlife.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills said:

“We are absolutely thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and are confident the project will deliver much needed long-term monitoring data, as well as engaging local mariners with the amazing wildlife that the west of Scotland has to offer.”

Community engagement work by the trust has shown that data collected by members of remote coastal communities can transform our understanding of marine mammals in the Hebrides – including which places are important to them and when, declines and recoveries in numbers, and emerging threats.

The trust’s Crowd Sourcing for Marine Mammal Conservation project will engage boat users with the unique marine wildlife in their area. The project has already received support from local tour operators, but the trust also welcomes new partnerships and encourages any operators interested in the app to come forward.

Wildlife guide and future user of the app, Vivi Bolin from Hebrides Cruises, said:

“As a scientist and a guide, collecting effort-based sightings data and contributing to research on the wonderful Scottish marine life adds value to what we do. The app will simplify data collection on board and also benefit us and our guests by providing a visual tool for displaying our sightings and the routes we have taken.

“The app will enhance the guest experience and our collaboration with Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust on this project is important to us.”

Contributors will be able to use an online mapping system to explore the data that they collect, to better understand seasonal trends in their area. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust hopes to resolve some long-held mysteries, such as establishing when minke whales return to Scotland after their migration.

The trust has been working with remote coastal communities for 21 years, to protect marine mammals and promote sustainable whale-watching. The whale-watching sector was recently estimated to be worth £1.7 million, attracting 15,700 tourists to the west of Scotland in 2015. To protect this valuable resource, we need to better understand how whales, dolphins and porpoises use their environment, and nobody is better placed to help with this than whale-watch operators and other marine users.

Simon Pepper, committee member for HLF Scotland, said:

“I’m sure that anyone who has been privileged enough to have seen one of these majestic creatures in the wild will agree that they are a unique part of Scotland’s coastal heritage. Thanks to National Lottery players, this important project will fulfil a much-needed role and help us to better understand and protect these animals for the future.”

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Jun 172016
HWDT visitor centre (medium)

Pictured (left-right): Alison Lomax (Director, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust) with volunteer team members Lynsey Bland and Sam Udale-Smith at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Centre in Tobermory (© HWDT)

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

A new marine wildlife visitor centre has been launched in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull by conservation charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust – to strengthen conservation action for whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and to develop the Hebrides’ appeal as a wildlife tourism hotspot.

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Centre on Tobermory’s picturesque harbour front was formally opened this month, and will be a learning, training and volunteering hub, as well as providing a major attraction for visitors, including families and children.

The building’s transformation has been funded as part of a grant of almost £220,000 from the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund. The fully renovated and extended centre features information on sightings of cetaceans – the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises – interactive exhibitions, displays and a gift shop.

“Our new centre aims to put Mull and the Hebrides even more firmly on the map as a key destination to enjoy and discover world-class marine biodiversity – which in turn will boost conservation, and could bring significant economic and social benefits to the region,” said Alison Lomax, Director of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

The centre was recently launched with a celebratory event attended by dozens of guests from across the UK, including conservationists, scientists, volunteers and local businesses.

The trust’s previous shop and visitor centre attracted 26,000 people in 2015 – a figure that Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust hopes will now rise significantly.

With Western Scotland’s seas being one of Europe’s most important cetacean habitats, the charity believes that developing sustainable marine wildlife eco-tourism is a major opportunity, as demonstrated by the benefits of white-tailed eagles to the local economies of Mull and Skye.

So far 24 of the world’s estimated 92 cetacean species – including many national and international conservation priority species – have been recorded in the region, and fascinating new discoveries about these populations are constantly being discovered.

The Coastal Communities Fund has also enabled the trust to carry out an innovative Sea Change project across the Hebrides over the past two years, to strengthen people’s connections to the sea in remote island communities. This has involved engagement with thousands of people, through roadshows, community visits, liaison with wildlife tourism businesses, and dozens of events.

Responsible whale watching, WiSe (Wildlife Safe) accredited, training has been provided for 23 tour boat operators, while local people have been able to develop skills through the trust’s Community Sightings Network – through which people can report sightings of cetaceans, helping to map their distribution.

Sea Change has been carried out on Mull, Coll and Tiree, Islay and Jura, Colonsay, Barra, Small Isles (Eigg, Muck, Rum, Canna), Mallaig and Arisaig, North and South Uist, Harris, Lewis, Gairloch and Skye.

The Coastal Communities Fund has also funded a refurbishment of the trust’s research yacht, Silurian, aboard which marine scientists and volunteers conduct surveys monitoring cetaceans each year. More than 90,000km of Hebridean seas have been surveyed and over 18,000 individual cetaceans recorded so far – significantly extending scientists’ knowledge and understanding, and informing long-term conservation initiatives.

Paying volunteers are being recruited for the trust’s 2016 expeditions onboard Silurian, working alongside marine scientists. For details, email volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620 or visit www.hwdt.org.

The Coastal Communities Fund was created to direct regeneration investment to seaside towns and villages to help rebalance local economies, reduce unemployment and create work opportunities for local young people.

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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 www.hwdt.org.

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 volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620 or visit www.hwdt.org.

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Apr 072016

HWDT 6; 6 - 17th September 2009With thanks to Morven Russell.

The true identity of a famous killer whale known as ‘Dopey Dick’ – who sparked widespread attention when he swam into Derry-Londonderry almost 40 years ago – has at last been identified, thanks to photographs published on social media.

The orca attracted headlines in November 1977, when he made his way up the River Foyle and into the city, apparently in pursuit of salmon, before remaining five kilometres upriver of Loch Foyle for two days.

Incredulous at the sight and confused about the whale’s behaviour, locals dubbed him ‘Dopey Dick’ – presumably after Herman Melville’s fictitious Moby Dick.

Nearly four decades later, it has been revealed that Dopey Dick is in fact the killer whale known more affectionately as Comet – a member of the highly vulnerable West Coast Community of killer whales, the United Kingdom’s only known resident population of killer whales which is at risk of imminent extinction.

Dopey Dick’s true identity was discovered when old photographs were uploaded onto a Facebook page. Killer whale expert Andy Foote and Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust Science Officer Dr Conor Ryan recognised the whale in the images as Comet, last recorded by the Trust off Dunvegan, Isle of Skye in September 2014.

Comet has been photographed many times in both Scotland and Ireland by researchers and members of the public, enabling scientists to track his movements.

Dr Andy Foote said:

“When I saw the photos on Facebook, I noticed that the white eye patch of Dopey Dick sloped backwards in a really distinctive fashion. This is a trait we see in all the West Coast Community whales, but it’s not that common in other killer whale populations. The photographs were all quite grainy, but it was still possible to see some of the distinctive features unique to Comet.

“I couldn’t believe it – he was already a full grown male back in 1977, when I was just five-years old!”

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

“Most of what we know about this precariously small and isolated population of killer whales comes from photographs submitted to us by members of the public. The population is too small to study in a targeted way, so the public has a big role to play.”

Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust has been documenting the West Coast Community’s behaviour since 1994. The four males and four females are not known to interact with other orca populations in the north-east Atlantic, and since studies began, have never successfully reproduced.

Earth Watch Team 7;26th August 2007 - 3rd September 2007

Comet. Copyright: HWDT, Genevieve Leaper.

Sadly in January this year, one of the females – Lulu – perished after being stranded on the Isle of Tiree.

The discovery that Dopey Dick was in fact Comet is significant because it confirms suspicions that some of the whales in the endangered West Coast Community are very old.

They have not produced any calves since records began. Fears for their survival are heightened following recent discoveries that other killer whales in the region have very high pollutant burdens that can cause toxic effects, including infertility.

Photographs are extremely valuable when researching whales and dolphins as they allow scientists to identify individuals through unique markings.

Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust encourages people to report their sightings using an online form available at www.hwdt.org.

Comet has a distinctive dorsal fin about 1.8 m in height, which leans to the right and has a notch near the top. Photographs confirm that he was an adult male, at least 19 years old, in 1977 – making him at least 58 years old today. The latest match was made possible thanks to the Scottish Orca Facebook page, which shares excellent images of killer whales in Scottish waters.

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

“This match places Comet very much at the upper limits of the typical life expectancy of male killer whales. Adult males generally live to around 30 years, but with an upper range of 50-60 years. So clearly time is not only running out for this individual whale – it is equally running out for whale biologists, who may not have much time left to gather information on this unique local population of killer whales that have made the waters of the British Isles their home.”

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are charities in the west of Scotland and Ireland respectively. Both seek reports from the general public of whale, dolphin and porpoise sightings via their websites: www.hwdt.org (west of Scotland) and www.iwdg.ie (Ireland).

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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: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/boatappeal/278471#

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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Nov 062015

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR

juvenile minke whale by silurian (small)Sightings of juvenile minke whales off Scotland’s west coast increased in 2015 to the highest ever recorded within a survey season.
Marine research expeditions carried out by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust have indicated either a significant increase in actual numbers or an influx of minke whales from elsewhere.

The charity’s 2015 research season also recorded the highest annual number of common dolphin sightings since its expeditions began, with 723 individuals observed over 63 encounters.

The common dolphin was once uncommon in the Hebrides, but the trust’s encounter rate with the species has more than doubled over the past 12 years, also for reasons that remain unclear.

Kerry Froud, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Biodiversity Officer, said:

“These intriguing changes in Scotland’s marine life highlight the importance of long-term monitoring of cetaceans – so that we can better understand what is happening in our waters, and then make management recommendations to better protect this world-class area of marine biodiversity.”

The studies were carried out between May to October by scientists and volunteers on board Silurian, the trust’s dedicated research yacht. The research forms part of the trust’s unique long-term monitoring of whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – in the Hebrides. Information on basking sharks is also collected during the surveys.

A steady increase in the encounter rate with minke whale juveniles since 2011 was particularly marked this year, with the highest rate of young whales recorded since the trust started boat-based surveys in 2003. The 2015 surveys documented an encounter rate of 1 young minke whale per 286 km – three times the average over the trust’s entire dataset.

The minke whale is the smallest of the baleen whales – species which utilise baleen plates rather than teeth to feed – in the North Atlantic, measuring up to 10 metres in length, and is the most commonly sighted baleen whale species in the UK. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust holds an identification catalogue of 125 minke whales known to have visited the Hebrides – of which some individuals return to the same areas annually, while others may only be passing through.

While an increase in the encounter rate with young minke whales is encouraging, there are still very serious issues regarding the conservation of this migratory species. To the north of Scotland, both Iceland and Norway still hunt minke whales. It remains unknown whether or not the minke whales that swim through Scottish waters frequent the waters where they risk being hunted.

Volunteers spotted something

The record number of common dolphin sightings – coupled with the most northerly sighting of the species ever recorded in September this year, off Tromso in Norway – suggests that changes are underway within our seas and oceans. The causes, and wider effects on the marine environment and other species, are still unclear – underlining the importance of on-going research.

Additionally, the number of white-beaked dolphin encounters almost doubled in comparison to 2014, although many of these encounters were made during one particular day of survey around the Butt of Lewis.

This rarer, colder water species is confined to the north Atlantic and prefers temperate to sub-Arctic waters – meaning that the warming of Hebridean seas, at a rate of 0.5°C per decade, is expected to exert increased pressure on the populations found off Scotland’s west coast.

White-beaked dolphins have been the focus of acoustic research by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, with a study in 2013 discovering that white beaked dolphin populations off the east and west coasts of Scotland have distinct acoustic signatures, almost like accents.

Alongside warming seas and climate change, human activities causing increasing stress on cetaceans and basking sharks include fisheries by-catch, pollution, underwater noise and habitat loss.

Cetacean entanglement in litter and fishing gear can cause mobility problems, injury and even death, and the trust is working cooperatively with the fishing industry and other researchers in the UK to better understand this problem so that it can be addressed. This year, ironically whilst the Silurian crew was celebrating a volunteer’s 60th birthday, a bunch of balloons was retrieved from the water – a reminder that celebratory balloons, even if marketed as ‘biodegradable’, can have lasting consequences for our wider environment.

Silurian – previously used in filming of the BBC’s The Blue Planet series – covered more than 4,000 nautical miles in 2015, its crew of volunteers and marine scientists documenting more than 1,200 encounters with cetaceans and basking sharks, and recording almost 625 hours of underwater detections of cetaceans using specialist listening equipment.

Despite less than favourable weather conditions, the overall encounter rate remained steady, with eight sightings of cetaceans per 100 km recorded, compared to nine per 100 km in 2014 and five per 100 km in 2013.

The annual surveys depend on paying volunteers. In 2015, 69 dedicated volunteers clocked up 760 survey hours – working with marine scientists to conduct visual surveys and acoustic monitoring with hydrophones (underwater microphones) monitored by computers, and identifying individual cetaceans through photography of dorsal fins.

The trust – based in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull – is recruiting volunteers for its 2016 surveys, to live and work as citizen scientists onboard Silurian for expeditions of one to two weeks from April to September. Participation costs cover boat expenses, support the trust’s research programme and include accommodation, training, food and insurance. For details, contact Morven Russell at volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620, or visit www.hwdt.org.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has been monitoring marine mega fauna in the Hebrides for 13 years, and is the only organisation collecting long-term data on such a large scale on Scotland’s west coast. A short film about its marine surveys can be seen at https://youtu.be/M_3r-GKfh8o.

Western Scotland’s seas are one of Europe’s most important habitats for cetaceans and one of the UK’s most biologically productive areas. So far 24 of the world’s 83 cetacean species have been recorded in the region, many being national and international conservation priority species.

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May 152015

By Suzanne Kelly.

news-140417-1-1-Sea-Shepherd-UK-Taking-Action-to-Defend-Scottish-Seals-2Sea Shepherd Global announces its 2015 Faroe Islands pilot whale defense campaign, Operation Sleppid
From June 14 through to October, Sea Shepherd crew members from around the world will return to the Danish Faroe Islands to once again halt the mass slaughter of long-finned pilot whales and other small cetaceans in the region.

The campaign marks the commencement of Sea Shepherd’s increased presence in the North Atlantic, where the organization will use its Southern Ocean successes to combat the continuing, unnecessary slaughter of cetaceans.

For hundreds of years the people of the Faroe Islands have been herding migrating pilot whales from the sea into shallow water and slaughtering them. The slaughter, known by the Faroese term ‘grindadráp‘ or ‘grind’, is a brutal and bloody tradition that wipes-out entire family groups of whales and dolphins at one time.

After being driven into inlets (fjords), distressed whales beach themselves or are dragged to shore by their blowholes with gaff hooks (blásturkrókur). A spinal lance is then used to cut the whale’s spine as they lie next to family members.

Some pilot whales suffer for as much as 30 seconds while others can take up to four minutes to die. For these animals, whose intimate family relationships and capacity to suffer is well documented, the grindadráp delivers a lengthy, harrowing and traumatic death.

Sea Shepherd takes its 2015 Faroe Islands campaign name from the Faroese term, sleppid grindini. Literally meaning “set the whales free,” the term is the traditional order used by the grind foreman to call off a whale hunt.

Operation Sleppid Grindini campaign leader and CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, Captain Alex Cornelissen said:

“This year, again, our crews will do everything legally possible to ensure that the pilot whales of the Faroe Islands are set free. Sea Shepherd’s intervention in the grind is not aimed to impose values on the Faroese people. It is part of a global movement that is driven by the passion to protect these pilot whales and all of the precious life in our oceans.”

Operation Sleppid Grindini will be Sea Shepherd’s sixth campaign in the Faroe Islands, and will be led by the organization’s strongest sea presence in the region to date.

Following their return from the epic Southern Ocean campaign, Operation Icefish, the Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker and Sam Simon will be joined by Sea Shepherd’s fast trimaran, the Brigitte Bardot in the steely waters of the Faroe Islands.

The ships will be supported by a land team, led by Rosie Kunneke of South Africa, that will assist with coordination and providing information through what are some of the bloodiest months of the slaughter.

Kunneke said:

“The practices undertaken during the grind, in which pilot whales and dolphins have to endure hours of cruel and stressful driving towards shore before being slaughtered in the presence of family members, would not be tolerated in any slaughterhouse in the developed world.

“With the introduction of modern conveniences and trade, and the safety warnings against pilot whale meat consumption, the people of the Faroe Islands no longer require whale meat for sustenance. It is time that we progress beyond this unnecessary, excessive and redundant cruelty and set the whales free, for good.”

Sea Shepherd Global

Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Our mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.

Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately-balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations. For more information, visit: http://www.seashepherdglobal.org/

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Mar 272015

Whalefest took over Brighton’s exhibition space mid March with a programme of events unrivalled. Exhibitors and guests came from all over the world; Aberdeen was well represented by volunteers, visitors, and Ian Hay of the East Grampian Coastal Partnership, who had an informative stand. It was a pleasure to be there, and to see how many people care about the world’s oceans and their inhabitants, especially the next generation. Suzanne Kelly reports.


Mother and BabyOrca – Richard Boll

The bad news is that we are spoiling the world’s oceans. Toxins, plastic waste (which breaks down into granules, enters the food chain, and basically kills wildlife) and debris are threatening the ocean’s life.
Overfishing is carried out on a nearly unimaginable scale – miles of nets and lines kill every creature in their paths – seabirds, sea turtles, mammals – and a great deal of the edible fish winds up as: pet food.

Much of this overfishing is illegal, but many countries turn a blind eye or persecute organisations like Sea Shepherd, which actively engages with those who are illegally destroying sea life, not least the Japanese navy.

The good news is that Sea Shepherd exists, that children are realising how destructive our generation is and that things must change. People are trying to slow pollution, find ways to remove poisons and plastics from our seas, rivers and oceans. The good news is that there is hope.

Hope was in fine form at Whalefest. Interesting discussions and debates covered the issues, including very emotional testimony from people who once worked ‘training’ cetaceans to perform for our ‘entertainment’.

Many of these people have harrowing stories of how the highly-intelligent, social animals are brutally trapped, painfully and terrifyingly shipped around the world, forced to do tricks if they wish to eat, made to eat dead fish when they would have eaten wild prey in the oceans, and callously drugged and kept in tiny pools where once they had oceans to roam.

Anyone who thinks animals should be treated like this must think again.

The festival’s founders Ian Rowlands and Dylan Walker are rightfully proud at the growth of their event. The press release indicates that over 15,000 visitors were expected. As the press release reads:

“Together with a team of over 500 volunteers, WhaleFest is the dream realised for its Brighton based founders, Ian Rowlands and Dylan Walker. Ian is a former journalist and wildlife travel company director and Dylan is a former marine scientist and author of numerous books on whales and dolphins.”

Commenting on WhaleFest, Co-founder Ian said:

“Every single day 1000 whales and dolphins are killed from what we do to our oceans. Some countries still hunt them. Many are taken into captivity. Intelligent, sociable, emotional, long lived, they are just like us, yet population declines and extinctions loom for these public-friendly icons of a fast-collapsing marine ecosystem.

“WhaleFest is the global gathering that gives whales and dolphins a more powerful voice. By being popular and entertaining we can touch the hearts and minds of an audience of millions of people and impact on the world’s decision makers.”

TV presenter Michaela Strachan gave an informative talk illustrated with footage of her engaging with whales in the wild; the room for such presentations was decked with life-size images of different kinds of cetaceans.

The Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society had an informative stand and participated in some of the discussion groups.

Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson video link talk:

For many the highlight was a video link presentation from Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson. Watson is not welcome in the  UK or indeed a few other countries where arrest warrants / lawsuits are intended to hinder or cow him and Sea Shepherd.  As Watson described some of these legal wrangles, we were truly in the realms of farce.

Watson started this now global movement back in 1977. As their UK website advises:

Sea Shepherd UK uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities committed against marine wildlife and habitats. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced oceanic ecosystems, Sea Shepherd UK works to ensure their survival for future generations.”

Watson talks for a great deal of time without ever losing an ounce of conviction; he is driven, passionate, and he’s not kidding. The movement is now huge, but volunteers and funding are always wanted.

Paul Watson explains that in 2002 when Sea Shepherd first went out against the Japanese whaling fleet, no one knew what was going on; not even the Japanese people.  He shows footage of violent whaling activity.  He talks about how non-violent movements are often treated violently. The footage shows dramatic engagements between whalers, illegal fishing boats and Sea Shepherd vessels

“We’ve had harpoons fired at us; we’ve been rammed we been fired on; we’ve been attacked by mobs; we’ve been beaten…” Watson explains over the footage.

The active roles on the water with Sea Shepherd are for those with nerves of steel, stamina and cool heads.

Recently the Dutch Postcode Lottery donated 8.3 million Euros. Which is just as well, for one of the fleet, the Bob Barker, is (at the time of writing) on the longest ever pursuit of a pirate fishing vessel. I’ve recorded Watson’s talk, and when time permits will write further about this movement.

Surely Sea Shepherd must be the most important development to saving the world’s oceans and wildlife that the world has ever seen. That might seem like a grandiose statement – but the direct action, the public support, and the successes (evidence collection, halting whaling, stopping illegal fishing, showing the world what is taking place at sea) is crucial and without precedent.

In conversation with Jessie, Sea Shepherd Captain (MV Brigitte Bardot)

How long have you been with Sea Shepherd?

“I have been with Sea Shepherd since 2009. Before that I was working as a professional sailor; professional captain. I sailed the world’s oceans; I was seeing the destruction, devastation and pollution in the world’s oceans. 

“I was getting more and more depressed and then I was getting more angry about it , and I saw what Paul Watson was doing and I thought, ‘you know what, I want to be part of that I want to do something about it; I want to make a difference.’

“So I was lucky; when I applied to Sea Shepherd because of my experience I was taken aboard our flagship vessel as first mate; that was really exciting and I was thrown in at the deep end.  I saw direction action straight away.”

I invite her to tell me about that. We’ve seen the dramatic footage (at Whalefest of Sea Shepherd in action’ – the harpoons, the water cannons and shots being taken at people. In Scotland we’ve had USAN apparently threatening Sea Shepherd people (caught on video).

“I’ve been threatened, I’ve been arrested; it’s all part of the work we do. I’ve been  on boats where things have been thrown at me; glass thrown at my head…”

We talk about the fact she is a woman and a captain for Sea Shepherd; there doesn’t seem to be any ‘glass ceiling’ in this organisation.

“When Sea Shepherd did me the honour of asking me to be a captain, the first thing they asked me was if I was prepared to be arrested, and I said ‘Of course I am’.  Of course I’d risk my life for the oceans and risk arrest. It’s part of the job.”

I ask Jessie if she will be one of the crew that will eventually come up to Scotland for the seal campaign; USAN are expanding operations, and as they have indicated, they are willing to kill seals that try to eat salmon:  something for anyone who thinks that there is no real cost to buying wild Scottish salmon to think about.

“I will probably get deported out of the Faroes; if so I will help out the seal campaign. We have some exciting campaigns coming up.”

I have no doubt of that.

There are activities, information stalls, merchandise to support relevant charities; the whole thing is a success, and the organisers are to be congratulated.

Outside the Brighton Centre, on the beach a large number of crosses have been placed in the stony shore.

These represent cetaceans that have died in captivity, ill-used and cruelly treated to create barbaric entertainment. The hugely-successful documentary Blackfish has raised awareness, and many of the operators of these marine venues are feeling the financial backlash as their behind-the-scenes realities are exposed.

Perhaps some of these children that enjoyed the day will take up the conservation and activist roles that will be needed if we are to protect and improve the world’s oceans. If we don’t stop going down the path we are already far along, there will be no coming back as was proved today.

We can’t live separately from the oceans. However much money there is to be made from exploiting the seas, it’s time to step back and think of what is happening. There is an old saying that a capitalist is someone who will sell you the rope you’re going to use to hang them with. We are in danger of being hung.

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