Crossings with no sightings are still just as important as those with sightings and provide us with valuable data!
Due to engineering work on the Pont-Aven, I’ve spent the week on the Mont St Michel, crossing the English Channel. With reports from other ORCA surveyors about humpbacks, a blue whale, belugas and hundreds of dolphins, it’s easy to feel disappointed by my lack of sightings. Granted, it’s always more exciting (for me and the passengers!) to see lots – but it’s vital to remember that crossings with no sightings are still incredibly important and provide valuable data.
In the scientific community, there is a bias towards research with positive findings. Generally, if you don’t find anything, it’s very hard to publish the research, which means a lot of valuable information is lost. The English Channel isn’t known for its wealth of wildlife - past crossings show that sightings consist mostly of porpoises and the odd dolphin. But this data helps us look into why this might be, and what we could do to help.
Unfortunately, like most animals, cetaceans are faced with a lot of threats. It could be that cetaceans are seen less frequently here due to lack of prey from over-fishing. It could be down to habitat destruction, marine pollution, or it could be that they avoid the very busy shipping lane to evade noise pollution and potential ship strike.
It could also be as simple as geography, as they may prefer the more open ocean and tend to stay further west along the channel (where we get a lot more sightings).
Understanding these issues is incredibly important for cetacean conservation, and collecting this data can allow ORCA to try and combat these problems. We help to create protected areas to restore degraded habitats, such as the Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) that we have helped to create in the North Sea and the Hebrides. We can try to reduce marine pollution through our education programmes, and sit on government panels and collaborate with other organisations to create safer spaces for whales, dolphins and porpoises. In busy shipping lanes, ORCA are investigating the reasons for and effects of ship strike on large whales, to try and mitigate for this and reduce how often it happens.
Hopefully, we can create a better environment here for these incredible animals. In the meantime, I had plenty of gannets flying around to keep me company, and lots of lovely people to talk to.
I hope this week brings more luck for Rebecca!
Question of the week: “If I adopt a dolphin, will you send it to my house? Because I don’t think my mum would like that…”
Fun fact of the week: At around 4 meters, the UK has the largest bottlenose dolphins in the world due to the colder waters!
ORCA Wildlife Officer - Bay of Biscay