For an addicted seawatcher, obsessed with pelagics and trained as a scientist, what could be better than an extra 10 days on the SarahJFK, counting seabirds and searching for cetaceans?
PRESS RELEASE. Exciting New Dolphin Project off North East Coast
Marinelife and Natural England launch a new project to monitor White-Beaked Dolphins and other marine wildlife in the waters off the Northumberland coast with Northern Experience Wildlife Tours.
The White-Beaked Dolphin is a little studied species which occurs around the coast of the UK and is vulnerable to the effects of global warming. It lives in the cold waters of the northern Atlantic and its available habitat is thought to be shrinking. There is little detailed information on the status of the species around the UK and the charity Marinelife has been studying these dolphins as well as other marine mammal species and seabirds off the south west coast of the UK for a number of years.
Now thanks to funding from Natural England (£17,700) and the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club (£1000), a new project starts this month to discover more about White-Beaked Dolphins and other species in the rarely studied Farne Deeps off the Northumberland coast. The partnership includes Marinelife, Natural England, the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, the University of Aberdeen, and Northern Experience Wildlife Tours – who will coordinate the winter surveys in the Farne Deeps and surrounding waters.
Dr. Tom Brereton, Research Director for Marinelife commented: “Our work along the coast of the south west has provided useful information on the distribution of White-Beaked Dolphins and their preferred habitats and this project will help complement and extend the existing work. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the area around the Farne Deeps will be important not only for White-Beaked Dolphins, but also for wintering seabirds”.
As with the project along the south west coast, the aim is to engage the local community in the conservation work and the value of safeguarding this species. It is believed the work can also raise the profile of Northumberland as an eco-tourism destination. A sightings website and postcard survey will be launched for local fishermen, recreational dive and angling boats, and yachtsmen to submit any sightings of White-beaked Dolphin and other cetacean species.
Dr. Catherine Scott, Marine Advisor for Natural England North East added: “Natural England is delighted to be supporting this exciting project. The survey will help us understand more about the importance of the sea off Northumberland for these little-known marine mammals, which are a priority species for wider marine protection. This is a great way for the North East to mark the start of the International Year of Biodiversity and it’s possible that this survey will discover that we have a nationally important stronghold for White-Beaked Dolphins off the coast of Northumberland. Through this new project, the North East is playing a vital role in identifying the areas which need protection to safeguard the future for this species around the UK.”
Dr. Martin Kitching, lead surveyor from Northern Experience said: “We have been recording White-Beaked Dolphins and other wildlife along the coast of Northumberland for seven years, and now systematically investigating the off-shore waters during the winter months, and engaging with the local community, provides a real opportunity to define the North Sea off Northumberland as an important area for conservation efforts”.
The project also involves setting up a photographic database of dolphins that will help experts to identify individual animals. In future, the ‘photo fits’ taken of dolphins in waters off South West and North East England will help find out how wide ranging the animals are and whether the two populations are linked.
White-Beaked Dolphins are a species limited in distribution to the colder waters of the Atlantic. The North Sea represents some of the coldest waters around the UK coastline and this new project will strengthen the scientific data about this and other species in this area and help support conservation efforts for this vulnerable species.