One of the things I was super keen to do this summer was get out to explore the waters around the Isle of Wight. There have been several media reports of dolphins and seals around the island. Locals tell me they often see porpoises relatively close to shore. Plus there are even some potential whale sightings.
The plan was to spend a couple of weeks living out on the island with some student volunteers, visiting two cliff-top vantage points to keep watch for marine mammals. Throughout the summer, we were also planning to take the lovely new IMS research vessel Noctiluca out for some boat-based surveys.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 seems to have other ideas regarding my dreams of a field season…
But this doesn’t mean that research has to stop! Instead, my MSc student Robyne Castles has developed an online questionnaire to collect some local knowledge about marine mammal occurrence around the Isle of Wight:
The questionnaire asks when and where people have seen marine mammals in the past, along with any details about the species, behaviour, and time spent in the area. Although we’d obviously love to collect as much information as possible, every little bit helps!
Marine mammals play an important role in the ecosystem, but also face many threats to their survival. So it is important to understand where and when these animals are occurring around the Isle of Wight and the Solent. We know that harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, harbour seals and grey seals use this area – but otherwise, our information is pretty limited.
By using local knowledge to create a map of historic marine mammal sightings, we will know how to best focus our future research efforts. This online survey is a crucial first step in developing a broader research program to study marine mammal ecology in this area.
So when we are eventually allowed back out on the water, we’ll know exactly where to go!