2016 Community Sightings

2016 Community Sightings Network

2016 was a fantastic year for spotting marine mammals on the Clyde. We had 366 reports totalling 1157 animals.   The humpback whale ‘Hamish’ who appeared early in the year helped to galvanise awareness of the project. We are encouraged by the number of porpoise and minke whales that have been sighted. It seems 2016 was not a good year for basking sharks on the Clyde but excellent to see some visiting pods of bottlenose and common dolphins.

We have learned a lot and will be making some improvements to the online reporting form which should make things easier. We cannot do it without you…. Please keep an eye on the water and sightings coming in 2017 🙂

Species No. Sightings No. Animals
Harbour Porpoise 243 750
Bottlenose Dolphin 7 61
Common Dolphin 13 91
Humpback Whale 21 22
Killer Whale 2 3
Minke Whale 27 32
Unidentified Baleen Whale 7 7
Unidentified Dolphin Species 19 61
Basking Sharks 12 13
Grey Seal  3 14
Harbour Seal 9 83
Unidentified Seal  3 6

A big thanks to everyone that has made a huge effort and contributed sightings over 2016.  The influential sightings data  you have gathered has been forwarded to relevant environmental databases and made freely available to students, research and conservation groups. This information is already helping to raise awareness and importance of the Clyde environment to mobile species.

Community Sightings Network:
Amy McLaughlan, Adrea Livingstone, Alan Dickson, Alan Keegan, Alan MacFarlane, Alasdair Macleod, Alex Bisset, Alex Rhodes, Alison Macleod, Alison Myles, Alistair Bell, Ally Dowd, Andrew Elliot, Andrew Muir, Anne Archer, Argyll Cruising, Barbara Armstrong, Bo, Bonita Ellmore, Brendan Bocker, Brian Cheevers, Bruce Kennedy, Callum Coral, Calum Pearson, Cameron Marshall, Caren Adams, Caroline Briggs, Caroline Todd, Catherine Creamer, Catherine McNicol, Catherine McQueen, Catherine Smith, Ciorsdan Taylor, Clare Baguley, CMMP, CN, Colin Paterson, Daniel Arbon, David Carnduff, David Jardine, David Llyon, David Pratt, David Sykes, Donald Illingworth, Dot – Yacht Jack of Hearts, Doug Chase, Douglas Craig, Dr David Sykes, Eileen Silcocks, Eilidh Beck, Elaine Cowie, Elaine O’Reilly, Elaine, Elisabeth Howard, Emma Russell, Emma Thomas, Fenton Parsons, Fergus McKay, Fiona Laing, Fraser Brown, Fraser Lawrence, Freda Bos, Gary Spence, Gavin Eisler, Geirge Muir, George Muir, George Wands, Geraldine Hobbs, Gillian Donaldson, Gordon Kerr, Harris Munns, Holly Pickett, Iain Watt , Ian Cormack , Isla Robertson, Isobel Tear, Jack Ibbotson, Jackie Mitchell, Jacqueline Bond, James Clark, Jane Day, Janet Petrie, Jennifer McShane, Jenny Stark, Jessica Hart, Jill Kearse, Joan Downie, Joanne Barton, Joe Smith , John Carroll, John Hempsey, John Taberner, Julia Gossa, Julie McNicholas, Julie Whiteford, Justin Lyle, K McGinty, Karen Fischer, Kate Cartmell, Katie Baxter, Kay Sheikh, Keith Yarham, L Bradley, Lesley Bright, Luke Furze, Malcolm Weaver, Margaret Clark , Margaret Tweedle, Mark Hanlon, Mark Hindley, Marnie Sweeny, Martin Ashall, Michael Brown , Michael Corrigan, Michaela Blair, Mike Carroll, Mike King, Omar Salam , Owen Paisley, Pam Bates, Paul Edgar, Paul May, Paul Miller, Paul Renfrew, Peter Jones, Phil Cheek, Phillip Cowie, Rachael Kennedy, Riccardo Angelini, Robert Aldam, Rod White, Rodger Blackburn, Roy Robertson, Russ Cheshire, RV Saorsa Crew, Sandy Homer, Sandy Stuart, Sarah C , Scot Atkinson, Sharon O’Donnell, Sophie Sheilds, Sorcha Cantwell, Stephen Jackson, Steward Brown, Stewart Gunn, Stuart Ferguson, Thomas Cameron, Tim Richardson, Tom Callan, Val Borland, Vincent Durkin, Wendy Lodge, Willaim McAllan, Yvonne Phillips

The Clyde Porpoise Conspiracy

The Clyde Porpoise Conspiracy

The Clyde Sea was recently rejected as a potential candidate and excluded from the new porpoise Special Area of Conservation boundary that is being formed in the Inner Hebrides. The limited academic studies that have previously been conducted  have all highlighted the high densities present in the Clyde’s unique ecosystem. All papers have suggested that further research should be conducted as a matter of urgency to determine the true status of the Clyde’s resident porpoise population.

The Clyde Marine Planning Partnership (Firth of Clyde Forum) is responsible for leading and developing the ‘Clyde Marine Plan’ and steering us towards the ‘Clyde 2020 Vision’:

“The Firth of Clyde is a healthy and thriving marine ecosystem that is capable of adapting and mitigating for the challenges of climate change and supports sustainable fishing, tourism, leisure and other sustainable developments while offering protection to the most fragile species and habitats. This will enhance the quality of life for local communities and contribute to a diverse and sustainable economy for the West of Scotland.”

At last a statement proporting to embed the ‘ecosystem approach’ within a marine spatial planning context. It was fantastic narrative  and a framework was agreed in 2005 to carry work forward. This framework suggested  the need for further research on mobile species in the Clyde (Policy ENV3).  It was suggested that Firth of Clyde Forum, Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage were to lead this work with a target delivery date of 2012.

Clyde Marine Planning Partnership policy document listing action to be taken on Mobile Species in the Clyde.

For various reasons this work was never undertaken.  Instead, the organisations that were meant to conduct the baseline research have now rejected the Clyde on grounds of insufficient and/or course data resolution and therfore could not be included in the models used for the recent Porpoise SAC assessment. It seems there are winners and losers in marine spatial planning and porpoises are currently on the wrong side in the Clyde.

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-22-50-13
Data form Scotland’s National Marine Plan indicating the abundance of Porpoise in Cyde identified by acoustic detection.

The Clyde Marine Mammal Project believes that if the work had been completed the Clyde would have been properly identified as containing some of the highest densities of porpoise in any Scottish waters and recognised as a critical calving and nursery habitat.  As one of the Clyde’s main apex predators it is important to study these animals and understand how they modify and respond to the environment they are resident in. Failing to do so is a slap in the face for the  ecosystem approach and does not bode well for the Clyde 2020 Vision.

As a community-led initiative attempting to address these issues we have been collecting scientifically credible Passive Acoustic Monitoring data using a towed hydrophone array and receive hundreds of opportunistic sightings reports from a Clyde-wide community sightings network. This is citizen science on steroids and data is helping us to ‘independently’ determine the status of porpoise in the Clyde, the impacts and pressures they face and the role they play in our environment.

Yes, they are at the ‘pointy’ end of the stick with respect to most developments in the Clyde and face a suite of anthropogenic and environmental pressures but as a sensitive indicator species we need to know If they are doing well or why they may be  struggling. A better understanding of whats going on  can only benefit species management decisions in other areas and would be extremely short-sighted not taking the opportunity to study these animals within the context of the Clyde ecosystem.

It’s  early days for the project but preliminary results are staggering and suggest that the Clyde has as a similar porpoise density to any other high-density areas identified in Scotland, UK or across the remainder of Europe. For instance, while we are towing the  hydrophone array we are detecting one porpoise, on average, every 8.5 minutes.  Depending on the specific location in the Clyde  there could be a relative abundance of between 0.6 – 1.1 porpoises per km2 and are conservative estimates.  This means that there could be a minimum of between 2400 – 4400  porpoises resident in the Clyde and completely blows away any previous abundance estimates.

Clyde Marine Mammal Project research conducted over past few months clearly indicates high densities of harbour porpoise in  the Clyde. The map shows some of our hydrophone transect lines and positions of acoustic detections. Blue markers  indicate minimum number of porpoise per ‘click train’ detection. 

Again it’s only the start of the project, must be careful to draw conclusions from data but illustrates what can be achieved in a short period of time with some dedicated volunteers operating on limited funding.  Whether you like it or not, the Clyde’s resident porpoises form a marine extension to our coastal communities and cannot be swept under the aquatic carpet any longer. We are calling for the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership, Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage to get behind and support the project, help us move forward and full-fill their original obligations outlined in their own Environmental Policies and statutory obligations.

WiSe Sociable Solitary Dolphin Code of Conduct

WiSe Sociable Solitary Dolphin Code of Conduct

Historically, solitary dolphins have appeared around our shores for many different reasons. Sometimes these animals are simply passing through an area – on their way to join another dolphin group, however, there are occasions when these solitary animals remain in an area, become habituated to human presence and are eventually termed a sociable, solitary dolphin.
All too frequently, the result of encountering these unique individuals ends to the detriment of the dolphin as the wish to interact with these individuals overrides our commonsense.

There is an additional problem with these animals; each is unique and each may, depending on the stage of habituation actually seek out contact. Often, following a standard code of conduct will not take into consideration the unique behaviour displayed by these animals and so the WiSe course has made the decision to provide a special mention of these animals so that as operators, you are prepared for an encounter which will be determined by the dolphin and could be different in every case and/or encounter.

ALL OF THE POINTS WITHIN THE CETACEAN CODE OF CONDUCT APPLY HERE, WITH THE ADDITION OF THE FOLLOWING POINTS:

  • Maintaining a distance of 100m may be possible with a dolphin group, however a sociable, solitary dolphin is likely to approach you. Whereas other dolphin groups will choose to leave you when they lose interest, solitary dolphins may not wish to leave your vessel and so may follow you away from the site of encounter.
  • IT IS IMPORTANT THAT, WHERE POSSIBLE, YOU ENSURE THE DOLPHIN IS NOT STILL FOLLOWING YOU WHEN YOU RETURN TO HARBOUR/MARINA FACILITIES. IF IT IS UNAVOIDABLE THEN INFORM THE HARBOUR AUTHORITIES UPON YOUR ARRIVAL. They may already be aware of the dolphin in the vicinity, however if not, advise them to call British Divers Marine Life Rescue (01825 765546) or Marine Connection (020 760 21574), who will decide whether further action needs to be taken.
  • SOCIABLE, SOLITARY DOLPHINS APPEAR TO HAVE A FASCINATION WITH BOAT PROPELLORS AND MAY GET DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO THE ROTATING PROPELLOR. IF THAT IS THE CASE, AND IT IS SAFE TO DO SO, PUT YOUR ENGINE INTO NEUTRAL AND DRIFT. The dolphin will eventually lose interest, however be warned that the dolphin is likely to return to your vessel once the engine is re-started if still in the vicinity. They may also hover beside a stationary boat propeller or rub alongside a rudder. BE AWARE OF THIS IF IN A SMALL BOAT – THEY MAY NOT REALISE THEIR OWN STRENGTH AND UNSTEADY THE VESSEL AND ITS PASSENGERS.
  • IF THE DOLPHIN CONTINUES TO FOLLOW YOU AND/OR GET CLOSE TO THE PROPELLOR THEN MAINTAIN A STEADY SPEED AND COURSE UNTIL RETURNING TO HARBOUR/MARINA AND THEN TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION IF NECESSARY.
  • AVOID ANY KNOWN AREAS OF REST OR FEEDING FOR AN INDIVIDUAL, OR IF YOU OBSERVE RESTING/FEEDING BEHAVIOUR AT THE SURFACE. DO NOT APPROACH, EVEN TO WITHIN 100M. THESE ARE THE MOST CRUCIAL BEHAVIOURS AND ARE PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANT FOR SOCIABLE, SOLITARY DOLPHINS WHO DO NOT HAVE OTHER DOLPHINS TO RELY UPON.
  • IF ANOTHER BOAT IS ENGAGED IN AN ENCOUNTER WITH A SOLITARY DOLPHIN DO NOT TRY TO ENTICE THE DOLPHIN AWAY. HAVE GOOD MANNERS AND PUT YOUR ENGINE IN NEUTRAL AND OBSERVE FROM A DISTANCE – THE NEXT ENCOUNTER COULD BE YOURS AND THIS PREVENTS THE DOLPHIN GETTING STRESSED.
  • IF THERE IS A RESIDENT, SOCIABLE, SOLITARY DOLPHIN IN THE AREA YOU MAY WISH TO CONSIDER FITTING A PROPELLER GUARD TO MINIMISE THE RISK OF INJURY TO THE DOLPHIN, ALTHOUGH THIS MAY DEPEND ON THE INDIVIDUAL DOLPHIN AND ITS PARTICULAR BEHAVIOUR.
  • IT IS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT THAT YOU DO NOT SWIM WITH, TOUCH OR FEED A SOCIABLE, SOLITARY DOLPHIN. THIS HELPS TO HABITUATE THEM TO HUMANS, PERMITTING THEM TO LOSE THEIR NATURAL FEAR AND CAN LEAD TO THEM REQUIRING MANAGEMENT TO PREVENT INJURY, DISTURBANCE OR IN THE WORSE CASES DEATH.

WiSe Cetacean Code of Conduct

WiSe Cetacean Code of Conduct

Increasingly, whales and dolphins (cetaceans) around the world are facing modern pressures upon their environment – pollution, accidental capture in fishing nets, and disturbance from vessels, particularly high-speed craft.

Recreational activities in inshore waters have burgeoned recently, and can pose a major threat to whales and dolphins either by direct injury when animals are accidentally cut by the boat’s propeller, or by interference or stress caused from the high frequency sounds made by the vessel’s motor.

There is no reason why boats and whales and dolphins should not be able to co-exist if care is taken to observe the following rules:

IF YOU SIGHT CETACEANS AT A DISTANCE, MAKE FORWARD PROGRESS MAINTAINING A STEADY SPEED, SLOWING DOWN TO SIX KNOTS OR LESS WHEN YOU ARE WITHIN A KILOMETRE OF THEM. ONCE WITHIN THIS CAUTION ZONE DO NOT APPROACH CLOSER THAN 100 METRES OF THE ANIMALS, AND DO NOT REMAIN IN CONTACT WITH THE ANIMALS FOR LONGER THAN 15 MINUTES.

 DO NOT CHASE CETACEANS, DRIVE A BOAT DIRECTLY TOWARDS THEM, OR ENCIRCLE THEM; WHEREVER POSSIBLE, LET THEM APPROACH YOU. IF THEY CHOOSE TO APPROACH YOUR VESSEL, OR BOW-RIDE, MAINTAIN A STEADY SPEED AND COURSE

 DO NOT RESPOND TO THEM BY CHANGING COURSE OR SPEED IN A SUDDEN OR ERRATIC MANNER; SLOWING DOWN OR STOPPING SUDDENLY CAN CONFUSE AND ALARM CETACEANS AS MUCH AS SUDDEN ACCELERATION.

 WHEN LEAVING THE VICINITY OF CETACEANS IT IS IMPORTANT TO ESTABLISH WHERE ALL OF THE ANIMALS ARE, BEFORE DEPARTING AT SLOW SPEED. ONLY RESUME MAXIMUM SPEED WHEN YOU ARE ONE KILOMETRE AWAY.

 ALLOW GROUPS OF CETACEANS TO REMAIN TOGETHER. AVOID DELIBERATELY DRIVING THROUGH, OR BETWEEN, GROUPS OF CETACEANS

 AVOID CLOSE APPROACH TO CETACEANS WITH YOUNG. YOU RISK DISRUPTING MOTHER-CALF BONDS AND EXPOSE INEXPERIENCED YOUNG TO STRESS AND POSSIBLE BOAT STRIKES

 DO NOT SWIM WITH, TOUCH OR FEED WHALES OR DOLPHINS, FOR YOUR SAFETY AND THEIRS. BESIDES THE STRESS YOU CAN CAUSE THEM, REMEMBER THAT, JUST AS IN HUMANS, DISEASES CAN BE SPREAD BY CLOSE CONTACT, AND CETACEANS ARE LARGER THAN HUMANS AND CAN CAUSE UNWITTING INJURY

 ENSURE THAT NO MORE THAN TWO VESSELS ARE WITHIN A KILOMETRE OF CETACEANS AT ANY ONE TIME AND NO MORE THAN ONE BOAT WITHIN CLOSE PROXIMITY. REFRAIN FROM CALLING OTHER VESSELS TO JOIN YOU.

 ALWAYS ALLOW CETACEANS AN ESCAPE ROUTE. AVOID BOXING THEM IN BETWEEN VESSELS

 MOVE AWAY SLOWLY IF YOU NOTICE SIGNS OF DISTURBANCE, SUCH AS REPEATED AVOIDANCE BEHAVIOUR, ERRATIC CHANGES IN SPEED AND DIRECTION, OR LENGTHY PERIODS UNDERWATER

 POSSIBLE SOURCES OF NOISE DISTURBANCE CAN BE AVOIDED BY ENSURING SPEEDS ARE NEVER GREATER THAN TEN KNOTS, AND BY KEEPING THE ENGINE AND PROPELLER WELL-MAINTAINED. ON THE OTHER HAND, CARE SHOULD BE TAKEN TO AVOID COLLISION WITH DOLPHINS WHEN USING SAILING BOATS OR BOATS WITH A LOW ENGINE NOISE AS THE ANIMALS ARE LESS LIKELY TO HEAR THE VESSEL UNTIL IT IS CLOSE

 PEOPLE REGULARLY USING VESSELS IN AREAS WHERE CETACEANS ARE KNOWN TO OCCUR SHOULD CONSIDER FITTING PROPELLER GUARDS TO MINIMISE THE RISK OF INJURY TO CETACEANS

 PLEASE NOTE THAT UNDER UK LAW, IT IS AN OFFENCE TO KILL, INJURE OR TAKE ANY WHALE OR DOLPHIN; OR TO INTENTIONALLY OR RECKLESSLY DISTURB ANY WHALE OR DOLPHIN. WITH THE NEW CRoW ACT AMENDMENTS, ANYONE COMMITTING SUCH AN OFFENCE COULD FACE UP TO 6 MONTHS IN PRISON.

Remember that whales, dolphins and porpoises use sound as a daily part of their life, for locating and capturing food, locating and communicating with one another, detecting predators, and forming a picture of their underwater environment in often very dim light. Many of the sounds made by craft directly overlap the frequencies used by dolphins and porpoises, particularly those caused by cavitation of the propeller blade, producing a very loud broadband, high frequency noise. This causes interference with their daily activities, sometimes excluding them from preferred feeding or nursery areas. It can also lead to undue stress, particularly when mothers are pregnant or with small young. Scientific studies have shown that dolphins respond negatively to craft moving directly at them, increasing the time they spend underwater and often swimming rapidly away from the sound source.

Kylie the Dolphin’s Timeline

‘Kylie’ the Dolphin’s Timeline

Kylie is a solitary common dolphin that is resident in the Clyde. We are studying the animals behaviour and seems to have a penchant and sets up a zone around certain navigation buoys. The dolphin is easy to identify due to a symmetrical nick from its dorsal fin. It has  been observed in close association with harbour porpoises. In 2009 which was sighted again in September 2010 but had disappeared 3 months later. The animal seems to move on after it has been disturbed for a while at any given location.  There are significant gaps in the timeline which would be interesting to fill. Please have a look at the following clips and will get a feel to how this dolphin behaves in different situation and encounters. There are some excellent and quite a few not so good examples on how you should manage an encounter with Kylie the dolphin.

A) March 3rd 2016 – Kylie (Donna) at Loch Fyne 

B) Oct 19th 2015 – Kylie (Donna) at Otter Ferry

C) Oct 5th 2015 – Kylie at Otter Ferry

D) October 10th 2015 – Kylie (Donna) at Otter Ferry

E) Aug 24th 2015 – Kylie with porpoise in Loch Fyne

F) July 21st 2015 – Kylie at Otter Ferry

G) Mar 24th 2015 – Kylie at Otter Ferry

H) Jul 28 2013 – Kylie at Ardlamont Point

I) Dec 2nd 2012 – Kylie off Ardlamont Point 

J) Aug 20 2012 – Kylie at West Kyles to Ardlamont

K) July 16th 2012 – Common Dolphin off Ardlamont Point

L) May 2012 – Kylie at Ardlamont Point (Click on link to watch via You Tube)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqdjkGsGpyU

M) Jan 16 2012 – Common Dolphin in Largs Channel

N) Aug 23 2011 – Kylie at Ardlamont Point

O) Feb 27 2011 – Kylie at Hunterston Channel 

P) Jan 28 2011 – Kylie at Hunterston Channel

Q) Jan 28 2011 – Kylie at Hunterston Channel

R) Jan 9 2011 – Kylie in the Largs Channel

S) Sep 18 2010 – Kylie with calf (juvenile porpoise?) at Hunterston Channel

T) Feb 6 2010 – Common dolphin in Largs Channel
.

U) Aug 12th 2009 – Common dolphin with calf in Largs Channel

W) Jul 27 2009 – Kylie in Largs Channel

X) Jun 23 2009 – Common dolphin in Largs Channel 

Y) Apr 28 2009 – Common Dolphin in Largs Channel

Z) 2008 – Common dolphin off Largs 

An Un-common Dolphin called ‘Kylie’, her penchant for buoys and Porpoise Pals

An Un-common Dolphin called ‘Kylie’, her penchant for buoys and her Porpoise Pals…

fairlie dolphin

A solitary common dolphin  called ‘Kylie’ has been active around the Largs Channel for the past few months. The Dolphin was resident off Largs for years and originally thought that ‘she’ gave birth to a calf in 2009 which was with her until 2010 but had disappeared 3 months later. After examining some old footage we are not so sure and believe the ‘calf’ might actually be  a juvenile porpoise but the jury is still out! The dolphin disappeared from the Largs radar around 2011 to reappear off Ardlamont point later that summer and have confirmed sightings with porpoises in the West Kyle in 2012.

‘Kylie’  cruising with her calf or perhaps a  juvenile harbour porpoise in the Largs Channel 2010

The dolphin was repeatedly sighted off Ardlamont in 2012 – 2013 and took up residence around Loch Fyne for the next few years. Amazingly ‘Kylie’ was filmed  with a porpoise in 2015! We are 100% certain that it is the same dolphin as the animal can be identified by a small symmetrical nick on its dorsal fin. As yet we are unsure if it’s the same porpoise she has being associating with or is  friendly with many of the Clyde’s porpoises.

Kylie with an adult porpoise in Loch Fyne 2015

It is exceptionally rare for common dolphins to interact in this way and have started studying its behaviour which is a bit weird as has a penchant for navigation buoys and may think its a porpoise! We have been recording the dolphins vocalisations to determine if it is adapting or modifying its clicks and whistles away from what would be considered normal common dolphin vocalisations. Over the years ‘Kylie’ has become a You Tube hit and have so far discovered over 27 videos where you can positively identify the animal and has helped build a picture of the animals behaviour and  movements around the Clyde.

We would like to ask boat owners to act sensibly, avoid seeking interactions with the animal and give it a wide berth when you spot it.  Sadly, we have watched it being seriously harassed and repeatedly disturbed by approaching vessels and able to measure the impact  boaters are subjecting it to.  For instance, yesterday there was a jet skier goading the animal to race with the vessel, which is both against the law and seriously uncool!

It’s a solitary dolphin trying to strike up friendships with porpoises which wont be able to achieve with boats hounding it… steer a straight course, keep a constant speed,  and please leave the animal to get on with it. Little is understood about solitary dolphins but to their detriment seem to seek interactions with boats which is often unavoidable but can be effected with minimal impact if we follow the code . However, please make an effort to leave the area around buoys, where it is active, clear of traffic as exhibiting strong territorial behaviour which might look like a bit of dolphin fun but is highly likely and seems to be stressing the animal to the max.

Remember, It is against the law to intentionally disturb or harass cetaceans and should follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code and get WiSe.  We do believe there is considerable work to be done on the Cyde to properly inform people of the relevant codes but need to emphasise that ignorance is not acceptable as a defence. If we witness any more harassment to this dolphin we will endeavor to push for some kind of  prosecution. The Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Board recently made recommendations to increase fines up to £40,000 and/or  imprisonment for upto 5 years, and includes other measures like Community Payback Orders and  ability to seize vessels or other assets associated with wildlife crimes…  its just not cool to interact with a wild dolphin no matter how tame it seems and cumulative impacts will be having an adverse effect on its behaviour and survivability. 

Porpoise vs Powerboat

Porpoise vs Powerboat

The Clyde Marine Mammal Project is studying the abundance, distribution and behaviour of harbour porpoise in the Clyde. They are listed on the Habitats Directive as European Protected Species (EPS) and have additional protection under Scottish Conservation Natural Habitats Regulations which makes it an offence to deliberately or recklessly disturb the species.

The Clyde is known to contain a high abundance of harbour porpoise and is comparable to other high-density areas in Scotland. Harbour porpoises can be expected in all areas but we have identified parts of a Clyde-wide ‘foraging-area mosaic’ where a high frequency of activity is observed. The Ardmore Channel and McInroy’s Point area form part of this mosaic’ and are important areas for the upper Clyde’s resident porpoise population.

Porpoise foraging mosaic
Porpoise foraging mosaic

June and July are believed to be the calving periods for porpoise in the Clyde, and are the only periods when calfs are sighted, or neonatal stranding have been reported, to the Scottish Marina Animal Stranding’s Scheme. Porpoise are known to have a very high metabolic rate and need to continually forage. Studies have indicated that they may need to eat up to 500 food items per hour to sustain metabolic activity. The data we have gathered indicates that small groups of porpoise prefer, and utilise, certain areas.

Porpoise hunt for prey using echo-location at a bandwidth between 130-150kHz. They become habitualised to regular ferry movements which tend to emit lower frequencies, but are sensitive to higher frequency sources from propeller cavitation, and they show an avoidance reaction to high frequency depth sounders. Photographic identification images indicate that there may be a higher incidence of boat strikes in the Clyde than other areas.

The foraging-mosaic areas are generally where the water currents and underwater features concentrate prey items and are known to support a higher benthic diversity. Any disturbance to porpoise foraging behaviour has metabolic implications and cumulative impacts can have consequences for their health and survivability. We expect a certain level of disturbance to the porpoises in the Ardmore Channel and McInroy’s Point, and we expect they will be displaced to other areas during the ‘high-impact’ powerboat event. Each foraging patch may have a specific carrying capacity and displacement of animals can have detrimental implications at a population level.

The Clyde Marine Mammal Project offered assistance to the Powerboat P1 event organisers, suggesting that an Environmental Appraisal of the event be conducted, to include the gathering of baseline and supplementary data, however, this was not carried out. The project raised concerns with Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Clyde Marine Planning Partnership, Inverclyde Council and Clydeport that there was a failure to meet the statutory obligations and that the ‘three tests’ laid out in guidance notices could not be fulfilled in a limited timeframe, and would breach the regulations and the environmental precautionary principle.

The project has been working independently to collect baseline and supplementary data. We hope that by monitoring potential impacts our contribution to event planning will be appreciated at future ‘high-impact’ events. During the race event we will be assessing levels of disturbance and behavioural changes to the resident porpoise population and we have enlisted the assistance of specialist acoustic, marine mammal scientists and a JNCC Marine Mammal Observer to work with us.

Acoustic Pollution – Pile Driving

Pile Driving – Acoustic Pollution

The Clyde Marine Mammal Project is conducting an assessment of potential cumulative impacts that may be affecting the Clyde’s marine mammal resource. Underwater noise is generated by various marine-related activities including construction pile driving. Pile driving has increased with the expansion of offshore wind farm development but is more commonly associated with coastal and harbour construction projects such as the current expansion of the Brodick ferry terminal.

DSC_9565The area around Brodick Bay contains important habitats for marine mammal species. The harbour construction project is three miles north of the Lamlash No-Take-Zone and newly formed South Arran Marine Protected Area, the location of nationally designated seal haul out sites. There are also two mixed seal haul-out site a short distance away, one to the northern shores of Brodick and the other at Corriegills to the south. The area around Brodick is home to resident population of harbour porpoise and is regularly visited by numerous cetacean and other mobile species. The common seal pupping season starts from May and the height of the harbour porpoise calving period is in the month of June.

Impact pile driving generates very loud sound pressures exceeding 230 dB re 1mPa peak-peak in source levels detectable at distances of tens of kilometres (Bailey et al. 2010). These repetitive high pressure sound emission have the potential to expose nearby animals to very high and damaging sound exposure levels (Gordon et al. 2009). It is accepted that pile driving noise can inflict acute injury to nearby animals and also has the potential to affect the behaviour of marine mammals over an even larger area (Tougaard et al 2012), resulting in population level impacts. No work has ever been conducted in the Clyde to determine the impacts of acoustic noise pollution on sensitive species.

Harbour porpoise, common and grey seals are listed on North Ayrshire Council’s Local Biodiversity Action Plan. Population-level disturbance to protected species normally requires appropriate assessment under the EU Habitats Directive. Environmental authorities neglected to inform the planning authorities of potential impacts to the areas resident seal and porpoise populations. An environmental impact assessment was conducted for invasive species and otters but was not considered for other protected species, contrary to accepted environmental best practice.

With reference to the Clyde Marine Spatial Planning Framework, Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland proposed to identify important areas for mobile species by a target date of 2012. This work was never undertaken. It is accepted that the construction project is a necessary development but it appears that there has been a partial failure in the environmental and planning process to account for the marine mammal resource. Without proper assessment, the Clyde marine mammal resource may continue to experience unmitigated exposure to harmful underwater noise. The CMMP will continue to  monitor acoustic impacts to the Clyde’s marine mammal species and insist that future developments involving pile driving or similar construction techniques will require an full environmental impact assessment.

April 2016 Sightings Report

April 2016 Clyde Sightings Report

Please use the zoom and click on the map markers to learn more about individual sightings. 

Between 1st and 30th April there have been 81  reported sightings of whale, dolphin, porpoise and seal species in the Clyde, totalling 203 individual animals.  The presence of a humpback whale in the Clyde has helped generate welcome interest and sightings participation around the Clyde. Many of the unidentified baleen whale sightings can probably be attributed to the humpback.

We have  had considerable success in spotting the Clyde’s only year round resident toothed whale, the harbour porpoise, which has helped identify some important ‘local’ hotspots in the upper Clyde area.  During the month of April alone we have already reached 50% of the previous year’s total  porpoise sighting levels. June is thought to be the height of the porpoise calving period and we expect many more sightings and increasing activity in the coming months.

It’s great to see our minke whales returning to the Clyde. They are easy to misidentify – small juvenile minkes sometimes look like large porpoises and are regular visitors to the Clyde so may go unreported. We have also had a reported sighting of a pod of common dolphins having a buzz around the Cumbraes. All in, April was a remarkable month on the Clyde, the sea was bubbling with zooplankton, shoals of juvenile fish, and companies of dive bombing gannets were all utlising our unique marine environment.

We are coming into the start of the harbour seal pupping season and we’re  really keen to receive seal sightings to better determine how this species utilises the Clyde. We would like to thank everyone that has contributed sightings data to date… they are really important, please keep them coming  🙂

April 2016 Sightings
Species   Sightings No Animals
Harbour Porpoise 45 131
Humpback Whale 18 19
Minke Whale 4 6
Common Dolphin 1 5
Unidentified Baleen Whale Species 7 7
Unidentified Dolphin Species 3 19
Other Types 1 1
Grey Seal 1 12
Harbour Seal 1 1
Unidentified Seal Species 1 4

Opportunistic sightings data collated from Clyde Marine Mammal Project, Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust and Seawatch Foundation. 

Loch Long Marine Litter Boom Proposal

Loch Long Marine Debris – Boom Proposal

The Clyde Marine Mammal Project is deeply concerned about the quantity of marine plastic and debris floating about in the Clyde.  Our beaches are functioning as industrial macerators, breaking up material, with seas becoming a liquefied soup of plastic waste.  This is a Clyde-wide problem but is most evident at the heads of our iconic sea lochs, with Loch Long and beaches around Arrochar becoming an environmental disaster zone.

Arrochar is dependent on tourism; an access point to the Arrochar Alps mountain range and one of the primary routes to Argyll and West coast. There is a large car park situated at the ‘beach’ at the top of the loch  but it’s not somewhere you would want to stop for a picnic or a selfie. There is more plastic debris on the shore  than seaweed and it has become one of the Clyde’s truly ‘plastic beaches’.

The village of Arrochar is located at the head of Loch Long, a sea loch that stretches 20 miles north from the main body of the Firth of Clyde into the heart of  the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park.

The locals rely on tourism and passing trade to keep the village alive.  They continually make efforts to clear the beach but are fighting a losing battle and the area has  become a marine ‘land-fill’ site. The best the council can do is employ the use of heavy equipment to periodically remove tonnes of debris.  It seems that every piece of litter that finds its way into the Clyde  eventually works its way to the head of our sea lochs, causing long-term environmental issues and destroying what should be a beautiful area, crippling the local economy.

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Most people are aware that the plastic and composite materials take a very long time to biodegrade.  Material is becoming incorporated into the Clyde’s food chains. A recent study has shown that 83% of prawns Nephrops norvegicus contained plastic in their guts which is alarming considering it forms part of the largest fishery in the Clyde. This plastic is also moving up the food chain and is being consumed by larger mobile marine species such as whales, dolphins, our resident porpoises and sea birds.  It’s sad to think that the most recent humpback whale visitor will be hoovering up this material to its long-term detriment reducing its potential to return to our shores.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 13.31.47It is relatively easy to identify the source of the material… it comes from everywhere and we are all responsible! If a piece of litter has a chance it will eventually find its way into the sea and if it floats or is carried beneath the surface will work its way onto our beaches to be broken down.  Alternatively it drifts to the heads of our sea lochs turning up in places like Arrochar.

Communities like Arrochar deserve  immediate action and a response to the pollution problems inflicted upon them. Talk of Marine Litter Strategies and Planning Partnerships does virtually nothing to stop the debris washing up on Arrochar’s shores. This is not a criticism of the people involved – no one wants marine plastic or waste on beaches –  but of systemic impotence and lack of desire to change the amounts of plastic reaching Arrochar and her beaches.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.16.42The Clyde Marine Mammal Project would like to see a system to remove the floating plastic before it reaches Arrochar. Social media is buzzing with an 18-year old’s plans to rid the oceans of 7,250 000 tonnes of marine plastic using an impressive ‘garbage patch’ cleanup array. If this can be done in the central Pacific Ocean it must be achievable in Loch Long. We don’t need to design an expensive or intricate array to remove the debris.  This could be achieved by using relatively cheap, tried and tested fish-farm boom technology, to help gather the marine debris and halt its flow as it is pushed northwards by prevailing winds and tides. With the right motivations this equipment could be collecting debris within the year with cleaner beaches at Arrochar being the barometer of success.

We do need to tackle the root causes of the problem and move away from using plastics where we can. Using a ‘bag for life’ may make people feel better and save 5p every time you go to the supermarket but will not solve the problem and is of little comfort to communities like Arrochar.  The only long term solution, however unrealistic, is for society to cut down on the amount of non-biodegradable waste we create but we have to accept  that we  are now living in the ‘plastic-age’.  However, Arrochar and her beaches need a solution now!

The following  photographs were taken on 20-4-2016 at Arrochar and gives an accurate and current account of the marine litter problems  faced by the communities at the heads of our iconic sea lochs.

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To forward these objectives the Clyde Marine Mammal Project has asked marine engineers to design a simple cost effective system using readily available equipment  that could work in Loch Long.  We are also asking Argyll & Bute Council, Firth of Clyde Marine Planning Partnership (Firth of Clyde Forum), Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Scottish Government, Crown Estate and the Ministry of Defence to make a commitment and take immediate  action to  halt the flow of marine plastics onto Arrochar’s beaches.