We Need You: a call for volunteers aboard Silurian's Joint Warrior Survey

 Volunteer look out towards a military vessel during a Joint Warrior Survey

Volunteer look out towards a military vessel during a Joint Warrior Survey

Despite the snowy skies and blustery winds, it’s not long now until Spring, and that can only mean one thing here at HWDT, and that’s the start of our survey season.  We’re incredibly excited this year for our early season Joint Warrior survey, which has been successfully running since 2009. The next Joint Warrior survey will be running from 24th April -2nd May 2018.

For new readers out there, Joint Warrior is the largest military exercise in Europe, carried out over a two-week period in the Spring and Autumn off the west coast of Scotland. Each year, monitoring surveys on board Silurian are scheduled to coincide with the Joint Warrior Exercises, during which the crew and our dedicated team of volunteer citizen scientists are trained to collect visual and acoustic data to monitor cetaceans in the area.

As the only organisation that actively monitors marine wildlife along the west coast of Scotland during these military exercises, the Joint Warrior surveys run by HWDT are the only ones of their kind, providing a unique experience for volunteers. As we only run two a year, the dedicated surveys provide an opportunity for volunteers to gain more experience in mastering a range of research techniques, with survey routes designed specifically to encounter animals in the presence of military vessels. 

 Military vessels recorded during the Joint Warrior survey

Military vessels recorded during the Joint Warrior survey

Despite working alongside the Ministry of Defense and the Royal Navy to understand and mitigate any impacts on the environment, HWDT still has some concerns of the impact of military activity on marine wildlife, mainly regarding the use of military sonar.  Military sonar emits intensely load bursts of noise that can disturb and harm cetaceans – which rely on their sensitive hearing to navigate, find food and communicate.

On each dedicated Joint Warrior survey we operate additional protocols specifically designed for this survey, such as video range tracking to film animals within the vicinity of warships and assess any unusual behaviour. The presence of sonar is recorded on every Silurian survey; yet it is extremely rare that anything is recorded in the standard surveys in comparison to when a Joint Warrior exercise is in operation. Finally the extended survey period (12 days) provides the potential for volunteers to hone and practice their training in marine mammal data collection skills.

The Trust believes that it is incredibly important to monitor cetacean presence and behaviour during these exercises. Unusual behaviour has been documented historically and the Trust is committed to identify the impacts, if any, this will have on cetaceans and other marine animals in the area.   


Even with the presence of military vessels, volunteers have previously experienced some incredible sightings of Hebridean marine wildlife on these surveys. During the last Joint Warrior survey, 5 different marine mammal species were recorded, including: common dolphin, harbour porpoise, minke whale, common and grey seals. 54 encounters yielded a total count of 181 individuals, recorded through visual data collection efforts from the deck. Not to mention recordings of 35 individual military vessels!


Historically, a number of beautiful anchorages have been made during these surveys, providing a great opportunity to venture ashore and explore the Hebrides alongside the intensive training. Some previous favourites have included The Shiants – a small group of isles in the middle of the Minch, Isle Martin – an uninhabited island in Loch Broom where St. Martin is reputed to have established a monastery and Tanera Beag – one of the serene Summer Isles

These important expeditions can only be carried out with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers and crew, who will contribute directly to a better understanding of cetacean behaviour, crucial to national marine conservation efforts. Anyone can join us on board Silurian, and the Joint Warrior Surveys allow volunteers the once in a lifetime opportunity to gain some real hands on experience of conservation in the face of unique human activity.

If you are inspired to expand your skillset and contribute directly towards conservation efforts at the frontline of environmental challenges, why not join Silurian’s Joint Warrior survey today?