HELP US MONITOR NORTH EAST WHALES AND DOLPHINS
Sightings website and postcard survey launches
In January this year, a partnership of organisations launched the North East Cetacean Project (NECP) to discover more about dolphins and whales off the Northumberland coast. The partnership includes Marinelife, Natural England, the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, the University of Aberdeen, and Northern Experience Wildlife Tours.
A series of winter surveys, funded by Natural England and lead by Martin Kitching of Northern Experience Wildlife Tours were undertaken, targeted in the cold, deep waters of the Farne Deeps, which have been described by local fishermen as an important wintering ground for White-beaked Dolphin.
The surveys generated some both anticipated and unexpected results. Harbour Porpoise, a small cousin of dolphins, were, as anticipated, encountered during the surveys. However, rather than White-Beaked Dolphin, a species limited in distribution to the colder waters of the Atlantic, Common Dolphin, a warmer water species was found.
Dr Tom Brereton, Marinelife Research Director who analysed the results commented “This was disappointing but not unexpected as Common Dolphins have been spreading north in recent years, presumably due to warming sea temperatures. However, occurrence in Northumberland waters is a potential cause of concern because studies in other regions have shown that the arrival Common Dolphins coincides with a corresponding disappearance of White-beaked Dolphins.”
The project also analysed data submitted by members of the public since 2003, with the majority of sightings being recorded from land. The results indicate that whales and dolphins are possibly changing their North Sea distributions. There is an urgent need for more offshore data to fully understand these changes, especially in light of new Government initiatives to improve conservation measures in our seas.
To this end the project has now launched a sightings website (www.northeastcetaceans.org.uk) and a postcard survey from this spring to engage the local community, including local fishermen, recreational dive and angling boats, yachtsmen, pleasure craft operators and the general public to get involved and help increase the understanding on where dolphins, whales and porpoises are found off the North East coast of England.
The website and the postcards contain information on the different species which are likely to be encountered and requests information on the number of each species seen, where the sighting was made and when.
Dr Martin Kitching, lead surveyor from Northern Experience said: “With the start of the spring and summer season, the number of boats on the water will increase and this offers a great opportunity to find out more about the whales, dolphins and porpoises off the Northumberland coast – please get in touch with your sightings and help us with this important research project.
How you can help: If you see a dolphin or whale, please report the information to us. You can use our online recording form at www.northeastcetaceans.org.uk, fill in a sightings postcard, available from North East Cetacean Project (NECP), 18 Frances Ville, Scotland Gate, Northumberland, NE62 5ST, or phone in you sightings to NECP co-ordinator Martin Kitching on 01670 827465 or mobile: 07908 119535.
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