Citizen Science: Surveying Cetaceans Aboard The Silurian

  • Hebrides, Scotland
  • Written By Keilidh Ewan

8 days out on Hebridean waters alongside 9 other crew, surveying Whales and Dolphins with the HWDT aboard their beautiful research vessel ‘Silurian’. What can I say? It was the absolute trip of a lifetime.

I’ve always been interested in Citizen Science. As a creative individual, you can imagine, most of my work is visual. Although I consider myself a bit of an everyday environmentalist (trying to do my part wherever possible), I’ve always wanted to do more and contribute towards something that could make a difference.

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s work leads the way for marine mammal conservation in Scotland. Collecting data through research expeditions, the results of which are then used to inform the Scottish Government of protection measures needed for Minke Whales, Risso’s Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises and Basking Sharks across Hebridean seas. With Citizen Science Programmes sitting at its core, HWDT offers an opportunity for individuals like myself to contribute to one of the largest cetacean research databases of its kind for UK waters. 

Photography has a very important role to play in this kind of research programme and compliments the vital acoustic and visual recordings being undertaken. Sightings of marine mammals are incredibly exciting but are often brief encounters.

Where cetaceans may only surface for a few seconds, if captured on camera you have the ability to prolong that one moment. As they say, a picture says a thousand words. From one image you may be able to gather a clearer picture of species type, size, numbers present and any key identifying factors such as scarring and dorsal fin markings.

On our expedition from the end of September to the start of October, we witnessed (and recorded) some spectacular sights including 4 Seals, 7 Harbour Porpoise, 28 Common Dolphins and hundreds of Gannets and Seabirds. One particularly special encounter included a pod of 25 Long-Finned Pilot Whales, with calves. This was the first ever sighting of Pilot Whales from the Silurian.

There is nothing more humbling than being on a boat completely surrounded by Whales that can grow up to 7.6m in length. It makes you realise that you are just a small dot on this beautifully wild planet.

In total we sailed 159.8 miles​, recorded 124.2 miles of acoustic and visual data and visited some of the most stunning areas of Scottish coastline from Loch Ewe, to the Isle of Martin, The Summer Isles and Annat Bay. The Hebrides holds a special place in my heart following this trip and I am extremely proud to have taken part in this adventure, gained my sea legs and contributed to science.

Keilidh

 

For more information on the trip from the HWDT, please visit: https://hwdt.org/news/2018/hwdt12-survey-summary
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