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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

A story about whales and humans

As well as working for WDC, I write books for young people. Stories; about the...
Risso's dolphin at surface

My lucky number – 13 years studying amazing Risso’s dolphins

Everything we learn about the Risso's dolphins off the coast of Scotland amazes us and...
Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whale (balaenoptera physalus) Three fin whales Gulf of California.

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...

Dolphins, genetics and conservation

This past week saw the identification of yet another new species of dolphin (an Australian humpback dolphin called Sousa sahulensis): http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/03/australian-snubfin-and-humpback-dolphins-at-risk-of-localised-extinction?utm_content=buffer59341&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Advances in the use of genetic profiling of dolphins reveals that coastal populations are made up of increasingly smaller and relatively isolated units, rendering them especially susceptible to local extinction.

These fine scale genetic differences will require a fundamental rethink of the way science conceives of conservation. In previous times conservation focussed on large scale units and as long as the general population was not threatened the status of sub groups within the species was not considered very important.

In addition, the new but rapidly advancing field of epigenetics is demonstrating that an organism’s DNA is only part of their genetic story because the environment in which it lives actually determines how the genes function. There is even evidence that the organism’s environment is able to change the very structure of its genes so that their offspring, in essence, inherit their parent’s experiences and environment.

Advances in the study of dolphin culture also reveal behaviours passed from generation to generation which allow them to better adapt to their local environment.

All this points to two conclusions: conserving the diversity of a species means conserving its environments; and that the units of conservation will become ever smaller.

Science still knows very little about the way in which individual animals contribute to the functioning of local dolphin societies but it seems likely that we will find at least some individual dolphins play significant roles.

If (when) the significance of individual dolphins in communities is identified WDC will finally have scientific justification for that which we know to be intrinsically true: every individual dolphin in every dolphin community matters!