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National Whale and Dolphin Watch: the great success of a citizen science project casting light on status and distribution of cetaceans in British waters - Seawatch Foundation

The Sea Watch Foundation’s 2019 National Whale and Dolphin Watch event (July 27th – August 4th) revealed striking biodiversity with an impressive thirteen species of cetaceans seen around the British Isles, a number which has only been recorded twice before in the history of the event. The total number of sightings (over 2,000) collected exceeded last year’s by 500 and was the highest reported so far.

National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2019 volunteer observers looking out for whales and dolphins at Essex Wildlife Trust Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, England. Photo credit: Tiffany Rogerson / Essex Wildlife Trust
National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2019 volunteer observers looking out for whales and dolphins at Essex Wildlife Trust Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, England. Photo credit: Tiffany Rogerson / Essex Wildlife Trust

For the past 20 years, Sea Watch Foundation has monitored the dolphins, porpoises and whales around the UK, documenting abundance trends, identifying conservation threats, and advising on the best ways to protect the populations both within and outside the Special Areas of Conservation. For the past 17 years this has been spearheaded through an annual national recording event, the National Whale and Dolphin Watch (NWDW), which marks the long-lasting collaboration between citizen scientists, wildlife enthusiasts, the general public, and researchers alike.

Scotland recorded the highest number of sightings particularly along the western coast and on the Inner and Outer Hebrides. In England, the greatest number of sightings were collected in the South around Cornwall and South Devon with similar numbers also collected in Yorkshire and the North-East. In Wales, the highest number of sightings was collected on the West coast.

“The most memorable sightings from this past year’s Watch week include fin whales off Tiumpan Head in the Outer Hebrides, feeding groups of short-beaked common dolphins off Berry Head in Devon, humpback whales sighted off Penzance in Cornwall and off Barra, in the Outer Hebrides, as well as long-finned pilot whales and large pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins sighted around Shetland”, says Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sightings Officer and lead organiser of last year’s national event for the Sea Watch Foundation.

Another great success of last year is the larger number of effort sightings (associated by detailed information on several environmental parameters) being collected, which accounts this year for 70% of all sighting records reported during the event.

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