Protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises with citizen science: National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2019
Scientists at Sea Watch Foundation are looking for marine mammal enthusiasts around Britain who want to help to collect records of whales, dolphins and porpoises and become involved in the charity's marine conservation work.
Every year for nine days in late July, Sea Watch Foundation asks wildlife enthusiasts to support National Whale and Dolphin Watch – a citizen science project now in its 18th year – by trying to catch a glimpse of whales, dolphins and porpoises visiting the seas around the British Isles.
This year's event runs from Saturday 27 July until Sunday 4 August 2019.
National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2018 recorded more than 1,300 hours of watches – with participants looking out for whales, dolphins and porpoises from Shetland to the Isles of Scilly, and reporting around 8,000 individual animals of 13 species from land and at sea.
Last year, 1,626 cetacean sightings were recorded – the highest ever recorded, possibly due to the good stable weather. High temperatures brought in warmer water species such as striped dolphin, and created the conditions for plankton fronts to develop – attracting shoals of fish and in turn, whales and dolphins.
The most memorable sightings recorded in 2018 included humpback whales in Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire, striped dolphins live stranding in South Wales, Sowerby's beaked whale in East Lothian, fin whales in northeast Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, and large pods of short-beaked common dolphins off Puffin Island and Menai Bridge in North Wales.
No previous experience is needed to take part in National Whale and Dolphin Watch – anyone in the UK can help. All that is needed patience, enthusiasm, binoculars, sightings forms, and a cetacean identification guide that can be downloaded from the Sea Watch website.
Sea Watch Foundation suggests people conduct their land watches for a minimum of one hour, and work in groups to take turns during data collection.
Experienced watchers can easily identify species and fill in the charity's website forms. For first time watchers, there are sites around the country where experienced watchers will be available to assist.
“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 over the country and having fun together,” said Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sightings Officer at Sea Watch Foundation, and lead organizer of this year's event.
Lots of activities will be happening during this year's National Whale and Dolphin Watch – including beach cleans, cliff walks, sandcastle competitions, face painting and dolphin rescues.
“At the time of writing, more than 600 watches – both land and boat-based – have been organized around the country in many different locations. Please get in touch to find out more and to take part!” said Chiara.
Dolphins face a number of threats including accidental capture in fishing nets, marine pollution, noise disturbance and depletion of fish stocks. They may also be affected by rising sea temperatures as a result of global climate change.
Find out more: www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/nwdw.
Volunteer Sea-Watchers dolphin watching off Newquay, Cornwall in August 2018 during National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Photo credit: Newquay Seasafaris and Fishing.