There is still so much to learn about the oceans; the creatures that inhabit our waters and the challenges they face. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s (HWDT) research expeditions are not just about fantastic wildlife encounters, the data collected deepens the understanding of Hebridean marine wildlife and helps safeguard it for future generations.
The Hebrides are a special place, with 24 species of cetacean (the collective for whale, dolphin and porpoise) recorded in the area. From resident species – such as bottlenose dolphin and porpoise – to visitors – like the common dolphin and minke whale – the waters off the west coast of Scotland are so rich.
With your help, HWDT have been gathering vital data off Scotland’s west coast for over 20 years. Between April and October, HWDT run expeditions lasting between 7 – 12 days to monitor whales, dolphins, porpoises, and basking sharks in the Hebrides.
Over the past two decades, more than 1,000 people - or citizen scientists – have joined an expedition, making HWDTs research vessel, Silurian their home for the duration. Trained by a passionate crew and deployed as field biologists, their hard work gathering data underpins a vital long-term monitoring programme.
The data gathered on board Silurian has generated one of the largest databases of its kind in Europe – with acoustic recordings totalling more than a year’s worth of continuous listening, and visual survey effort equating to sailing the world 3 times over! This colossal database has helped better understand the species found in our waters and is used to evidence how important the west coast of Scotland is for whales, dolphins, porpoises, and basking sharks.
Over the course of the season, Silurian and her teams on board gather data across the whole west coast of Scotland, aiming not to repeat the same route twice. Alongside data on whales and dolphins, environmental data (i.e., sea temperature, depth, tidal flow, salinity, etc.) is collected to allow for robust analysis. Through this long-term data collection, HWDT data can answer questions of habitat preference, site usage, and through our photo identification work, animal behaviour.
Human influences and activities, such as underwater noise, fishing, and marine litter, are also monitored to identify emerging threats and understand the conservation implications and risks.
All this data combined provide a unique and powerful body of knowledge, which is making a real impact for the protection of marine wildlife in western Scotland. The data collected on board Silurian has contributed to the designation of Marine Protected Areas for harbour porpoise, minke whales, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins, and detected trends and changes in the marine environment linked to the climate crisis.
Species monitoring is vital to conserve wildlife. Long-term research and monitoring are essential to understand and protect highly mobile and long-lived species like whales and dolphins. Anyone can join an expedition as full training is provided on board Silurian. Sail with HWDT in 2024 and explore the beautiful west coast of Scotland, anchor in some fantastic locations, meet likeminded people and learn new skills. For a unique and meaningful experience in 2024, join the adventure and have a positive impact on our blue planet.