Sea Watch has once again been granted funding from Sea-Changers to fund surveys off the Welsh coast. This year, we used the opportunity to train up some of our volunteers on vessel-based data collection. Weather conditions meant that both trips got pushed to April, but they were a great success and here, Chloe and Kathy tell you more about the trips!
Chloe tell us about the survey off The Gower in South Wales:
“Sat in my car in Swansea Marina with the rain pouring down, I thought to myself how best I could protect my camera, binoculars and data recording sheets whilst out on the boat in what was forecast to be heavy showers and gusty winds. To everyone’s surprise, the minute we stepped on our boat for the day, the Sea Serpent, the sun broke through the clouds. After our briefing from Dave & Lizzie (Gower Coast Adventures), we headed out to sea and blue sky soon appeared. Armed with binoculars, cameras and plenty of layers, for a lot of people this was the first chance they have had to get out on a boat and undertake a cetacean watch off of Swansea Bay. Not many members of the public are aware of the array of sea life that is frequently seen in the Gower, so this was a great opportunity to capture and share the secrets of Swansea Bay’s wildlife for all to see.
Soon as we were 15 minutes into our watch it was clear that we were all wearing a few too many layers! The sun was out and we had a constant sea state of 1 – perfect porpoise spotting conditions. Before long we had our first sighting – two harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) surfaced a few times about 200 metres from the boat before heading off South. Everyone was elated that we had seen some marine life so early on in our trip, despite it being a distant sighting; little did we know things were going to get even better. Throughout the duration of our trip down to Worm’s Head, we had a further two sightings of porpoise, one of which was a very close encounter which allowed us to take some pictures and observe behaviour. This trip was a good opportunity for everyone on board to have a go at recording effort data and we had lots of marine bird sightings, including terns, gannets, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and Manx shearwaters to keep us entertained as we journeyed on. As conditions were ideal and the sun continued to shine, we took a little trip around the corner of Worm’s Head to have a peek at any seals which had hauled out for a sunbathe. There was one lone grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) which was fast asleep until a swell lapped up the rocks and gave him a rude awakening.
On our way back to the marina we were surrounded by porpoise, one after the other! Every time we had filled out the sightings form, recorded data and took some photos, more porpoise popped up all over the place. We had some fabulously close encounters (too close to even get pictures!) and revelled in sunning ourselves whilst watching Swansea’s cetaceans doing what they do best. Three and a half hours later, after a very successful and enjoyable boat trip, we arrived back at the marina as the sun began to set over Mumble’s head. Overall we saw 15 porpoise over 8 separate sightings and a wide array of sea birds. Sun, sea and porpoise – what more could you want?”
Kathy tells us about the survey from Aberystwyth, West Wales:
“On Tuesday 12th April, we met at the harbour in Aberystwyth and marvelled at the calmness of the water. Setting off on ‘Ma Chipe’ we headed north to see if we could spot any of those bottlenose dolphins that we knew had been seen moving southwards thanks to our dedicated observer network and casual sightings reported to our website.
My colleague Katrin and I took the opportunity to show our Aberystwyth volunteers how to collect watch data at sea. It was great to spend time at sea with such a lovely bunch of people! It’s so often the case that we have a great time with our volunteers as we have something in common; a passion for the wildlife we’re there to observe and record.
This was also the first day of our new Research Assistant, Sonia, who joins us from Spain. We didn’t have much time to talk as we were busily taking it in turns to record ‘effort data’ and to watch from the platform of the vessel for the all-important cetaceans. Effort data is the term we use for the environmental details coupled with the spatial and temporal information of the watch. Put simply, where we are at fifteen minute intervals for the course of the survey, the state of the sea and visibility.Our 2016 Research Assistant, Sonia.
It was the most stunning day to be at sea and we even achieved that sought after sea state zero in patches, but as we proceeded up towards Barmouth we had not a single sighting of a dolphin or a porpoise. Happily, many of the team were also interested in the bird life (which is not always the case) so I was able to share the rafting guillemots and razorbills with them and was thrilled to see twelve eiders floating by. We also saw a red-throated diver, manx shearwaters and the odd swallow heading towards Ireland.
Upon reaching Barmouth we needed to head back south towards our base in Aberystwyth. Hearts were definitely beginning to sink and I was so desperately wanting our volunteers to have a sighting of the magnificent bottlenose dolphins they hoped for. Sadly, we did not have a single sighting on this five hour survey, but we all agreed that it was a fantastic day to be at sea and everyone had learnt new skills which will help us to monitor the cetaceans of Wales.
One volunteer, Jack, was so inspired by the trip that he joined us the following day for a survey out of New Quay, around 24 miles south of Aberystwyth. Jack’s efforts were rewarded with a stunning start to the survey season and up to thirty different animals joining our boat. We look forward to working with Jack and all the other Aberystwyth volunteers this summer and beyond!Some of the familiar and not-so familiar fins and faces on the New Quay survey. Photo by Katrin Lohrengel/ Sea Watch Foundation. To get a feel for how many animals were there, click here for a short video.
If you would be interested in joining our Welsh Sea Watchers scheme, please contact our Wales Development Officer on firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you on board!”