The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is calling on the public to record their at-sea excursions and sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises and endangered basking sharks off Scotland’s west coast in an effort to boost monitoring efforts and strengthen understanding of the coronavirus lockdown’s impact on marine life.
With wildlife around the world taking advantage of reduced human activity, the Trust wants to discover more about what has been happening in Hebridean seas, which are globally important for whales, dolphins, porpoises, and basking sharks.
Marine ecosystems are increasingly under threat from human activities – including climate change, entanglement, pollution, underwater noise and habitat degradation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the charity’s regular at-sea scientific research expeditions have been cancelled.
With lockdown restrictions easing, the Trust is appealing to people living and working on the west coast to log their excursions, report sightings and submit photographs through its quick and easy-to-use Whale Track website at whaletrack.hwdt.org or free smartphone app.
Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Science and Conservation Manager, said: “We don’t yet know what the impacts of lockdown will be on cetaceans [marine mammals that include whales, dolphins, and porpoises], but with fewer boats and activities taking place at sea, it will almost certainly have been a lot quieter out there. This may have had important benefits for whales and dolphins, which rely on sound for communication, foraging and their ultimate survival.”
“Reporting is easy, and every excursion logged on Whale Track – whether a ferry crossing or a kayaking trip – will make a difference to our understanding of what impact lockdown has had on Scottish whales and dolphins.”
Sightings and photographs will also help the Trust’s researchers track the movement of resident coastal species like bottlenose dolphins, and learn more about rarer visitors like killer whales and humpback whales.
During lockdown there have been almost 350 sightings of 10 different species reported by 90 people using Whale Track during their daily exercise or essential work at sea.
The Trust has been hugely grateful for these reports – which have included super pods of common dolphins, the return of migratory species like minke whales and basking sharks, and spectacular sightings of resident harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphins.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.