Spring marks the start of the ORCA Wildlife Officer season and every year our Wildlife Officers board ferries around the UK to live and work on board for up to six months of the year.
Our Wildlife Officer programmes are a key part of ORCA’s education work and every year those on board meet thousands of passengers, inspiring them about the marine life that can be seen during their voyage. Working in close partnership with Brittany Ferries, DFDS and Caledonian MacBrayne, ORCA Wildlife Officers live and work on board ferries crossing the North Sea, the Bay of Biscay, The English Channel and the Hebrides and often show passengers their first ever whale or dolphin. Spending six months on board gives these passionate, dedicated individuals the chance to gain a once in a lifetime experience which is the perfect way for them to start a career in marine conservation.
Not only do our Wildlife Officers showcase the wonders of the ocean to passengers during their voyage, they also collect vital data which helps us to learn more about whales and dolphins and understand their way of life. Data has been collected on Wildlife Officer routes since 2014 and between then and 2017 an astonishing 60,000 animals have been recorded. These sightings and data will be summarised in our 2019 The State of European Cetaceans Report.
We get a lot of fine scale information from our Wildlife Officer routes as it is collected every day for up to six months of the year. This can give us in-depth insights into seasonality, movements and key drivers of occurrence, for example environmental conditions of prey abundance.
On board our Wildlife Officers are often asked the information they collect is used for. The data is used by wide array of researchers and institutions from undergraduate students, to university professors on other continents and governmental monitoring reviews. There are several new and developing projects that use Wildlife Officer data including comparative habitat modelling in the North Sea, the extent of plankton distribution and abundance on baleen whale distribution in the North Atlantic and the temporal and spatial habitat used by fin whales in the Bay of Biscay. This research will directly inform research tackling the issue of ship strike and potentially provide an insight into how their distributions and what influences them.
If you’re travelling this summer, remember to keep an eye out for our Wildlife Officers on board, say hello and have a chat to them about the vital work ORCA are doing to protect whales, dolphins and porpoise in the waters around us.