HWDT completes first winter survey in Hebridean seas
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.
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).
Our first winter survey took place last week in fantastic winter weather, surrounded by snow-capped mountains (full summary here). 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 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.
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.