Published: 17 June 2016
Can you spare a few hours and help contribute to marine science? (no experience required!). As an island, the UK and its coastal waters is home to a huge variety of marine life. Most people, however, are unaware of the true diversity of life that exists in the seas around the British coast. There have been 29 species of whale and dolphin (collectively known as 'cetaceans') recorded in our waters and it is likely that many more have come and gone unnoticed. Aside from the harbour porpoise, common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins that some people may have spotted, we are occasionally graced by the presence of ocean giants such as sperm and fin whales. Slightly more common are the Risso's dolphin and the more well-known and charismatic orca (killer whale): with its distinctive panda marking it is an intelligent and efficient predator that hunts seals in packs.
Despite having such a wealth of marine mammals, there are still gaps in our knowledge when it comes to their movements and behaviour. The Sea Watch Foundation was established in 1991 in order to better understand cetaceans in the UK and Ireland, while educating the public and raising awareness. For a number of years they have been running an annual whale and dolphin watch week, where members of the public are encouraged to spend a few hours watching the sea and recording details of the marine life they encounter. The findings feed into a national database that provides a 'snapshot' of cetaceans' movements for one week of the year.
The Torbay Coast and Countryside's Berry Head National Nature Reserve provides a perfect place for cetacean watching and each year, the ranger team, with the help of lots of volunteers, take to the headland with their binoculars and notepads to engage in some citizen science. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, the good news is that it requires no prior knowledge of whales and dolphins. All equipment is provided and a training session from a cetacean expert teaches volunteers everything they need to know.
To get in contact with the ranger team to find out more, send an email to [email protected]