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Our volunteers clock up 1 million minutes looking for whales and dolphins

Shorewatch citizen science army clock up 1 million minutes looking out for whales and dolphins

Members of the public who have committed to helping to save whales and dolphins have clocked up a massive one million minutes-worth of voluntary watches in Scotland whilst taking part in our Shorewatch citizen science data collection project.

The 100,000 individual 10 minute watches have highlighted the amazing number of different whales and dolphins that visit or inhabit the seas around Scotland. Over 19 years, 30,000 whales or dolphins have been sighted, and 18 different species. The five most commonly seen are bottlenose, common and Risso's dolphins, harbour porpoises and minke whales.

Some of the more unusual sightings have included deep diving Cuvier's, Sowerby’s and sperm whales, Sei whale, and the most exciting (18th species) sighted this year- a beluga whale normally found in the high Arctic.

The 1000+ strong community of local people involved in the Shorewatchprogramme help monitor at risk species of whale, dolphin and harbour porpoise across Scotland. Members of the public are encouraged to train as volunteers to identify and scientifically record the movements of legally protected species from coastal lookout points, collecting vital data about where they breed, feed and travel.

In the past, Shorewatch data has helped create marine protected areas in the seas around Scotland, including in North East Lewis, supported the identification and designation of Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) off the Scottish coast, and fed into research and conservation efforts to better understand a range of human pressures including from shipping and fishing activities.

The volunteers have also helped to monitor and report the growing threat posed by disturbance.
As more people are visiting the coast and enjoying taking to the water, the potential of harm to whales and dolphins from recreational water-based activities is growing, especially at peak holiday times.

‘Effort from the public has been remarkable and hugely valuable’, Emma Steel, Shorewatch coordinator said. ‘But it’s not just about the data – it’s the power of the people. Shorewatch volunteers contribute far more to WDC than their 10-minute surveys, writing to their MSP/MP, attending local protests, writing to foreign governments about cruel whale hunting… the list goes on.’

As well as helping protect whales and dolphins, Shorewatch has brought many other benefits for those members of the public taking part over the years, whether it be personal wellbeing or quality family time together.

David Jones, one off the army of Shorewatch volunteers said: ‘I started doing Shorewatch with my daughter – is a great way to spend some quality time with her especially as she is now reaching the mid teenage years and Dad is usually not so popular! I still get a great feeling inside when I hear the excitement in her voice when she sees a dolphin or whale, it makes it all so worthwhile.’