Marine mammals are becoming increasingly affected by human disturbance in our seas and oceans. Threats from fishery by-catch, shipping, tourism and pollution can affect resident and migratory populations, disrupting natural behaviour patterns and sometimes causing injury or death. We support the work of the Cetacean Rescue and Research Unit, researching cetacean populations and providing rescue support for stranded marine mammals in Scotland’s Moray Firth. Funds are raised through our bottlenose dolphin adoption and appeals to our supporters.
Despite extensive research, still very little is known about the majority of cetacean species. They can be one of the most difficult animals to study as they spend most of their time underwater, often in remote areas and surfacing only occasionally to breathe. The Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit’s non-invasive research provides data which includes comprehensive records on over 220 individual bottlenose dolphins from more than 350 encounters.
The key objectives of this research are to increase knowledge of the distribution and general ecology of this particular population, identify key areas used by the dolphins and assess whether these change seasonally or from one year to the next, study the long-term population dynamics of this community, and to provide information essential for the development and implementation of effective conservation strategies to protect these animals and their habitats.
Bottlenose dolphins can live up to between 30 – 50 years in the wild and have low reproductive rates. An annual monitoring program such as this allows for clear status assessments and provides invaluable data to feed into long term conservation activities. Information can also be integrated with broader research activities, influencing local coastal management plans throughout the UK.
The fully trained team of cetologists, veterinarians and volunteers are on standby 24 hours a day throughout the year. Their specialised rescue equipment and medical supplies ensure they are ready to help sick, injured and stranded cetaceans in trouble. The vet team can also offer international support and advice for strandings when required. And it’s not just whales and dolphins who benefit. Many other wildlife casualties include seals, seabirds, basking sharks and turtles.
It is a sad fact that often these casualties occur as a direct result of human activity. Marine pollution poses a lethal threat. High concentrations of toxic heavy metals and pesticides have been found in toothed whales and the presence of the industrially discharged organochloride and PCB, can cause developmental, reproductive and immune system problems. Even inadequately treated sewage poses infection risks. Accidental capture during fishing (by-catch) and net entanglement dramatically threaten the populations of many small cetaceans and overfishing can deplete prey species.
Increasingly, noise from ships’ engines and industrial activity at sea interferes with cetacean communication, while the latter can also damage internal sensory organs and navigation ability. If predicted changes in ocean currents occur, both distribution and abundance of prey species will change dramatically. Even whaling occurring near British waters can have an effect. In August 2003 Iceland recommenced killing minke whales and the hunting of pilot wales for food is common on the Faroe Islands, situated half way between Scotland and Iceland.