The seas around the UK are blessed with an array of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. With such a vast area ocean and these amazing animals constantly on the move, it’s difficult to know how well they are doing, or where they could be most threatened.
We need many eyes on the sea - which is where UK-based Sea Watch Foundation’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch - and you if you are in the UK - come in.
I spoke with Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sea Watch Foundation’s Sightings Officer about the National Whale and Dolphin Watch, which is taking place from Saturday July 28 until Sunday August 5, 2018.
Q: What is the National Whale and Dolphin Watch?
Chiara: Every year, Sea Watch Foundation look for marine mammal enthusiasts around the UK who want to help to collect records of whales, dolphins and porpoises and become involved in their marine conservation work through National Whale and Dolphin Watch. National Whale and Dolphin Watch this year is taking place from Saturday 28th July until Sunday 5th August 2018 and it marks the long-lasting collaboration between citizen scientists, wildlife enthusiasts, the general public and researchers alike.
For me, National Whale and Dolphin Watch is about involving people and allowing them to experience something they never thought they could be part of, it is about collecting vital data for the protection and conservation of local cetacean species, and it is about sharing this magical event with people from all other the country and have fun all together.
National Whale and Dolphin Watch is a unique opportunity for everyone who is in the UK and has a trip planned along the coast or booked a ferry ticket, or for anyone sailing or boating around the country to be involved in the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
Lots will be happening during this National Whale and Dolphin Watch event from beach cleans to cliff walks to land watches all around the shores and boat watches offered by the many recommended boat operators Sea Watch collaborates in the region.
Q: Tell us a little bit about Sea Watch Foundation
Chiara: Sea Watch Foundation is a national charity who has worked over the past forty years to improve the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins, and porpoises in British and Irish waters, with the help of volunteer citizen scientists all around the country.
The use of ‘non-scientific members’ of the general public to collect data on cetaceans (a collective name for all whales, dolphins and porpoises) to investigate their status, distribution, abundance and wellbeing has been pioneered in the UK by Dr Peter G.H. Evans, the Director of Sea Watch Foundation. This organisation, dedicated to marine research, conservation and education, established a nationwide citizen science project in the 1970s by creating a network of voluntary observers who report sightings of cetaceans from all around the UK, and whose help is vital to improve the knowledge of the health of the marine environment and its inhabitants.
Q: What kinds of whales, dolphins, or porpoises could people see?
Chiara: In UK waters, there are many important locations for whales, dolphins and porpoises which use these areas to feed, breed, and raise their young ones. A total of 29 species of cetaceans have been recorded in British waters, one-third of the world’s cetacean species, highlighting how rich UK waters are for these magnificent and treasured animals. Bottlenose dolphins are sighted almost daily in New Quay at the west coast of Wales and off Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth or even in Aberdeen harbour. They can also be sighted in Liverpool Bay, around the Isle of Man, off the coast of Cornwall and in the Channel Islands to name just a few other places.
Harbour porpoises are the commonest and most widespread species in Britain. They can be spotted almost anywhere. White-beaked dolphins are sighted not just off the coast of Northumbria but also all along the east coast of Scotland and in the northern Hebrides, and in Lyme Bay in Southern England. And there is no reason to travel as far as Norway or Iceland to see orcas, minkes or humpback whales as all three occur in the spring and summer months around Scotland, Orkney and Shetland.
Q: Wow – this sounds wonderful! Do people need to have experience identifying whales, dolphins, and porpoises to join in?
Chiara: No previous experience is needed, anyone who wants to and who is in the UK during the event can help. All that people need to bring is patience, a lot of enthusiasm, binoculars, and sightings forms and a cetacean identification guide (downloadable from the Sea Watch website). We are suggesting for people to conduct their land watches for a minimum of one hour and to work in groups to take turns during data collection. If you are an experienced watcher, you can easily identify species and fill in our website forms.
If it is the first time for you, there are manned sites around the country where experienced watchers will be available to assist first-timers.
Accredited wildlife tour operators and other recommended dolphin watching companies around the UK are also taking part in the weekend. Please note that spaces on most boat trips need to be reserved first. Prices vary for these trips and you should contact the relevant operator directly. All marine wildlife operators abide by a voluntary code of conduct.
I hope that National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2018 is going to draw positive attention and interest like in the past. The NWDW 2017 recorded more than 1,500 hours of watches, 300 hours more than any other similar organized watch in the past, with participants looking out for whales, dolphins and porpoises all around the country from Shetland to the Isles of Scilly, and reporting around 6,600 individual animals of eleven species from land and at sea.
The National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2018 is just a week away and we are urging people to register now to run watches of their own to contribute valuable data for the protection of these magnificent species! Please get in touch to find out more and to take part!
Want to find out more? Just head to the Sea Watch Foundation website, where you can also register your own watch (on land or at sea) and find details on manned sites. If you want to know more about last year’s event, take a peek at the 2017 National Whale & Dolphin Watch Report. Have a question? Email the Sea Watch Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Header Image: Pod of bottlenose dolphins sighted off Cardigan Bay. Credit: Chiara G. Bertulli/Sea Watch Foundation