HWDT Welcomes New Photo-ID Volunteer

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Now that summer is over and winter has well and truly arrived, our science team have returned to the office to begin processing and analysing all of the valuable information that was collected during the season. We have also welcomed Michael Newman from the University of Plymouth to the team, as our photo-identification volunteer. Michael will be with us for six months over the winter working alongside our science team, helping to go through the photographs that have been captured this season, identifying individual animals and updating our photo-identification databases and catalogues.

I have always had a keen interest in our oceans, so when I discovered HWDT I was immediately interested by the prospect of a placement here. When I found out that I had secured the placement, I was delighted to have the opportunity to spend time gaining experience in an area which I am incredibly interested in.
— Michael Newman

Photo-identification is a key component of our research at HWDT. Each year, thousands of photographs captured by our crew on board Silurian during our research surveys, and those sent to us through Whale Track, our Community Sightings Network, are analysed to identify the presence of identifiable individual animals. This information is added to our photo-identification catalogues, to build up a sightings history for each animal showing when and where they have been seen over the years. Michael will be working on archiving all of these photographs and updating our catalogues for bottlenose dolphins and minke whales.

After spending a large period of my time at university learning about terrestrial environments, I am very excited to finally spend some time increasing my knowledge and understanding of the marine world.

Maintaining these photo-identification catalogues is invaluable to HWDT, as they give us a convenient way of matching sightings of animals to those that we have already identified. This allows us to track the movement of individual animals and assess site fidelity and residency patterns. Using this technique, we have been able to show that some minke whales, like the famous Knobble, have been returning to important feeding grounds in the Hebrides every year for over a decade. The images can also provide evidence to assess conservation threats like entanglement, ship strikes and the prevalence of parasites.

The HWDT placements provide valuable experience for a future career in marine mammal science and we are delighted to have Michael join the team this winter.

During my time at HWDT, I am hoping to develop a variety of skills, from photo-identification to time management. As well as this, I will also be gaining some amazing experience on board the research vessel Silurian, which will be very helpful for me in the future.


If you’re interested in joining us, we will be advertising our 2019 summer placements very soon, so keep your eyes peeled on our social media pages and vacancies page.

Morven Summers