Teenage marine research expeditions in Hebrides to boost whale and dolphin conservation

 Budding conservationists spot dolphins off Scotland's west coast on a previous expedition, collecting data of vital importance. 

Budding conservationists spot dolphins off Scotland's west coast on a previous expedition, collecting data of vital importance. 

To celebrate Scotland's Year of Young People, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust are running three Teen Team research surveys this year for the first time ever! These unique research expeditions place teenagers at the heart of the action, conducting pioneering research into whales and dolphins off Scotland’s west coast – helping collect valuable data to conserve marine mammals.

The Teen Team research surveys on board the Trust’s specialised research vessel Silurian, will each provide opportunities for six young people to gather data on cetaceans – the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The bespoke trips provide a unique opportunity for 16 to 17 year olds to spend seven days at sea – working alongside scientists as marine mammal field biologists, kick-starting careers in marine conservation.

Two trips will depart from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull in July and August, with a third new trip set to sail from Ullapool during October half-term.

Expanding our Teen Team research surveys so more young people can join us onboard and gain skills, knowledge and experience is really exciting. Each and every young person that sails on Silurian will be making a real difference to conservation by collecting evidence that will strengthen the largest database of its kind for UK waters.
— Pippa Garrard, HWDT's Community Engagement Manager
 The teenagers will also help run Silurian, giving them a chance to develop skills such as sailing and navigation.

The teenagers will also help run Silurian, giving them a chance to develop skills such as sailing and navigation.

The young people will work and sleep on Silurian, becoming key members of the research crew, working with the onboard scientist to conduct visual surveys, identify individual animals through dorsal fin photography and carry out acoustic monitoring using specialist equipment.

The data collected will inform conservation efforts – including by assessing impacts and threats to cetaceans that are caused by human activity.

The teenagers will also help run Silurian, giving them the chance to develop skills such as sailing and navigation. No previous experience is necessary, with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s expert crew providing full training onboard.

This trip taught me a lot of valuable life skills such has how to communicate effectively as part of a team.
One huge benefit of going on Silurian was that it helped me apply for University and write my personal statement, as I could talk about the skills and knowledge I gained, especially the role of research in response to current and future environmental problems. This undoubtedly helped me gain offers from all five universities I applied for.
— Charlotte King, 2017 Teen Team participant

Whilst operating surveys out of Ullapool during the autumn, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust will also run a dedicated Youth Trip for local disadvantaged young people. The three-day residential trip – made possible thanks to funding from the Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Project, in conjunction with Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Project – will support participants’ development by building confidence, encouraging teamwork, and providing new challenges and experiences.

The Teen Team research expeditions depart from Tobermory on 27 July and 5 August, and from Ullapool on 13 October. Participation costs cover boat expenses, accommodation, training, food and insurance, and support the Trust’s ongoing research. Feeling inspired to get involved?  Email volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620 or see hwdt.org/silurian for more information. 

The Trust would like to express their gratitude to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for raising funds to support the delivery of these unique opportunities, through Postcode Local Trust. These trips would also not be possible without continued support from the Robertson Trust.