HWDT completes first winter survey in Hebridean seas

Snow dusts the Hebridean landscape during the inaugural winter survey, as our volunteer citizen scientists monitor for marine wildlife

Snow dusts the Hebridean landscape during the inaugural winter survey, as our volunteer citizen scientists monitor for marine wildlife

For the first time in HWDT’s history, Silurian, our research yacht has started conducting a multi-year programme of dedicated monitoring surveys during the winter months. Our new winter survey expeditions will provide an incredible opportunity to learn about the year-round presence of marine mammals and basking sharks in Hebridean seas. These surveys are important given that little winter data currently exists for the region. 

Undertaking winter surveys will allow us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the species in the Hebrides. Specially, the surveys will help us understand if the distribution of harbour porpoises changes between summer and winter and assess whether minke whales are present year-round. Our winter surveys will provide the information we need to help us address some of these intriguing questions.
— Becky Dudley, HWDT Marine Biodiversity Officer

Between November and March, short three-day monitoring surveys, will depart from our base in Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull and will cover the surrounding waters up to Skye in the north and down to Islay and Jura in the south.  The winter monitoring programme has been fully funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

We’re delighted to support these new surveys which will give us a fascinating new insight into the lives of marine mammals during the winter months. A better understanding of the movements of different species throughout the year will help us to target conservation measures where they are most needed in the future.
— Fiona Manson, SNH Marine Advisory Officer

Our first ever winter survey took place last week in fantastic winter weather, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  Silurian, her crew and volunteer citizen scientists surveyed around the Small Isles and the Isle of Mull.  Sightings included harbour porpoise, seals and a large group of dolphins off in the distance. A key part of our data collection is acoustic monitoring for cetaceans and underwater noise from natural and manmade sources. Over 19 hours of underwater recordings were made during the survey, and we can’t wait to start analysising the data.

The number of harbour porpoises in Hebridean waters is amongst the highest in Europe

The number of harbour porpoises in Hebridean waters is amongst the highest in Europe

The winter surveys are a great opportunity for local people to get involved in boat-based citizen science. At the end of last year, we ran free training courses for over 40 people, to teach them about the survey protocol, species identification and life on board Silurian

 

Our new winter surveys will complement the already extensive timetable that we run from April to October each year, which is also partly funded by SNH.  The winter surveys will allow our team to assess the seasonal trends of priority marine species, in particular the harbour porpoise, a year-round resident in the Hebrides. 

This important enhancement of our survey programme will provide critical year-round monitoring, which will allow us to generate a baseline for priority marine species during the winter months. This will allow us to assess the year-round presence and distribution of these species for the first time, and expand the evidence available to inform the effective management and conservation of cetaceans, basking sharks and seals in Hebridean seas.
— Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, HWDT Science and Policy Manager

Our pioneering Cetacean Research Programme, which these winter surveys are part of, is now in its 17th year and holds the largest database of its kind for UK waters. A citizen science programme at its core, every sighting in the database has been collected by a member of the public and provides the evidence to support marine conservation efforts in Scottish waters.          

 

If you want to get involved there are still opportunities to join us on board in 2019. Our full survey timetable can be found below, or give the office a call on 01688 302620 and talk to a member of our team.