Friday, 8 September 2017

Sun, Sea & Cetaceans

Simon is one of our South East Sea Champions and alongside studying for a Foundation Degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation, he also does voluntary work for conservation charities (including the Marine Conservation Society!) He was recently lucky enough to go to Tenerife  to volunteer on a whale and dolphin conservation project. Read on to hear all about his trip.

As a marine ecology and conservation student with a keen interest in marine mammals, spending four weeks in Tenerife volunteering with whales and dolphins seemed like the perfect way to get field experience. What I didn’t expect was a once in a lifetime opportunity, whilst contributing to valuable scientific research…

Before I go into that, here’s a bit of background information about me: I’m currently studying for a Foundation Degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation, and I'm planning on doing a BSc Hons in Marine Biology upon successful completion of my course.

I chose to go on the project as I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins, and felt this was a fantastic opportunity to get some experience in conducting scientific research.

The project I was involved in has three main activities that are conducted on a daily basis:
  1. Cetacean Surveys on local whale watching boats where data and photographs are collected on the local populations of whales and dolphins in the area. This will be used to increase knowledge of the animals, such as where they prefer to socialise. 
  2. Community Outreach activities are carried out which mainly involves telling visitors about responsible whale watching companies, that follow guidelines that ensures minimal disturbance to the animals. As part of the ongoing plastic pollution problem, beach cleans are also conducted across the island. 
  3. Boat and other vessels, such as jet skis, were monitored through surveys to see if there was any disturbance caused to whales and dolphins in the area. This will allow staff to potentially bring in restrictions that ensure minimal disturbance to any whales and dolphins in Tenerife. 

Tenerife is home to a resident population of Short-finned Pilot Whale and Bottlenose Dolphin, and the project aims to build a database on these two species. Occasionally, other species are seen such as Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Sperm Whale, and Minke Whale. All the sightings collected are used to a build catalogue of populations resident within Tenerife, so that conservation measures can be implemented to safeguard their future.

If I had to choose highlights from the trip, they would be:
  • Bow-Riding Dolphins: when I was on one of my Cetacean Surveys on the boats, I saw a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Common Dolphin, and Bottlenose Dolphin bow-riding along the front of the boat. It was an amazing experience to see these majestic animals up close in their natural habitat. 
  • Pilot Whale Mother & Calf: when I was collecting photographs of Pilot Whales from one of the boats, I noticed that an adult female had a nearly born calf alongside her, and I managed to get a photo of them together. 
  • Risso’s Dolphins: on my last boat survey, I was very luck to encounter a family group of Risso’s Dolphin. This is a species that is known for having white scars across their skin, possibly made by their main prey item: squid. It was very sweet to see them tail slapping (I like to think it was their way of saying hello). Certainly a great way to end an incredible trip. 

Being a volunteer on the project was such an amazing experience. It gave me an insight into what is involved in marine mammal research and has a certainly served as a benchmark for future career plans after my studies. If I could give anyone advice if they wanted to get involved with whale and dolphin conservation efforts, they would be: 
  • Volunteer - there are projects in the UK and abroad where people can get involved with conservation projects. You don’t have to be a marine biologist: just have bags of enthusiasm, willingness to get stuck in and maybe a stroke of good luck! 
  • Whale Watching Trips - best way to see whales and dolphins is to go on a whale watching trip. There are plenty of opportunities available in the UK, particularly in Cornwall and Scotland. I would personally recommend those that support the WiSe scheme, a scheme that is used to promote responsible wildlife watching, which should be displayed on their website. 
  • Make a donation, make a difference - we all have the ability to make a difference that will contribute towards the conservation of all marine life, including whales and dolphins. In the UK, we are lucky enough to have different species from Bottlenose Dolphin to Orca’s. Any donation you can make will support organisations, such as MCS, to ensure that UK seas are fit for life for marine species. 
I hope you’ve been inspired by my blog and that it's got you thinking about ways that you can support the conservation of whales and dolphins in a time where the ocean requires urgent protection from a number of man made threats.

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