Thursday, 19 April 2012

Help Sea Watch spot whales in the Pentland Firth

Killer whale watch to help conservationists - Volunteers asked to take on 2-hour watches
April 2012. Researchers are planning to be out in force during what is traditionally a reliable week in the year for spotting orcas - killer whales - off the Caithness coast - and they are appealing for volunteers to help.
Led by Sea Watch NE Scotland co-ordinator Colin Bird, the watch from 19th-27th May aims to gather data about the various cetacean (whale, dolphin, and porpoise) species using the Pentland Firth.
Tidal turbines
A number of tidal and wave energy turbines are set to be developed in the region, and researchers want to better understand the behaviours and needs of the species using the area to be able to help develop conservation measures to avoid any adverse impacts on populations.
Colin explains: "I have been keeping records of orca sightings since 2006 in the area, and the second week in May appears to be a reliable week for orcas. Although we know that many species pass through the Pentland Firth, there is a lot we do not understand about their movements and behaviour - where they are coming from, where they are travelling to, and what path they take through the Firth, for instance. We know some species seem to reach Thurso Bay to the west and then turn around before reaching the Firth. We know this from watches held over many years by members of the public carrying out sea watches.
"We are hoping that local ferries will alert us when they see orcas or other whales and dolphins heading our way. We will also have an observer on the John O'Groats ferry which will be travelling through our watch area, and we are also hoping that bird groups, ramblers, island visitors and others will get involved.
Dolphins and Minke whales
"We are looking for people who are willing to carry out one- or two-hour or longer watches at Duncansby Head where they will watch an area of 14 square miles during most of the daylight hours, and record the data for us. We will be providing the data recording forms and guidance. In addition to the orcas, we may also see Risso's, Atlantic white sided, white-beaked, common dolphins, harbour porpoises and Minke whales in the area, and these will also be recorded."
Sea Watch Research Director, Peter Evans, said: "The Pentland Firth has very fast flowing currents and tides, and the way that species use these features is still not fully understood. Sea Watch data dating back to the early 1970s confirm that May is the month when orcas start being recorded regularly in the area as they move in to prey upon harbour (common) seals.
"We cannot be sure whether the tidal energy or wave energy devices will impact upon local populations, but by better understanding existing behaviours, we will be much better placed to advise developers and policy makers on appropriate and effective measures for conservation. "

If you would be interested in volunteering, contact Colin Bird on 07762969822 or

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