Category Archives: Seals and Sea Lions

Isle of Wight Marine Mammal Survey

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!

IoW Grid Map

This gridded map helps people identify where they saw a marine mammal. For example, square G3 for sightings near Ryde. 

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!



New paper: Effects of ship noise on marine mammals

I’m excited to announce the publication of my co-authored paper on “The Effects of Ship Noise on Marine Mammals—A Review” in Frontiers in Marine Science.

The number of vessels utilising the marine environment is on the rise, with a corresponding increase in noise pollution from this activity. But what are the effects of ship noise on marine mammals? We reviewed 154 scientific articles to document the species, areas, and effects studied. From this, we were able to identify common themes and important research gaps.

This was a hugely satisfying project and a delight to work on. One of the best parts of research is finding great people to work with, which was certainly the case here!

The paper is already receiving good reviews and the Altmetric score is soaring! I’m looking forward to seeing how this paper can help shape future research.





Mapping Unexpected Visitors – sightings of uncommon marine species

The coastal town of Albany, Western Australia had a surprise visitor this week, in the rather large form of a southern elephant seal.  Although still just a juvenile, this 2.5m male is thought to weigh-in at somewhere between 500 and 700 kg – not exactly something you want to find in your front yard!  But when Rhonda Bell looked outside, that’s exactly what she found!

The seal has been basking on Rhonda’s beachside property on-and-off over the last week, occasionally moving up and down the coastal road.  Local residents have been turning up by the dozen to check out the unusual marine mammal.  Southern Elephant Seals breed in colonies on South Georgia, Macquarie Island, Heard Island and the Kerguelen Islands. For most of the year they live in the cold oceans of the sub-Antarctic.  However, at this time of year winter fronts can sweep in various migratory animals to Western Australia.  Since elephant seals are used to travelling long-distances (records of an elephant seal travelling 18,000 miles over a year), no doubt this one will none the worse for wear.

In the meantime, the media are having a field day with seal-related puns as a result (my personal favourite “Sealed road a big hit with locals“).  Although worryingly, not many people seem to know much about the animal.  One local kid was quoted as saying “I wasn’t sure what it was – I thought maybe a remote-controlled hippopotamus” (see the video here).  Oh dear…

The 'sea monk' was a monster from the North Sea - not sure if there's a Redmap category for this!

The ‘sea monk’ was a monster from the North Sea – not sure if there’s a Redmap category for this!

But admittedly, when something strange appears in your local patch of ocean, how are you supposed to figure out what it is?

One new initiative is trying to map the occurrence of ‘uncommon’ marine species sightings using citizen science.  Started by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), the Redmap project invites Australians to share sightings of marine species that are unusual in their local seas.  Over time, Redmap will use this information to map changes in species distribution and ranges and try to determine the cause (e.g. changes in the marine environment).  The added benefit to you, is that once a sighting is logged it goes to a scientist for verification.  This means that you can get an expert opinion to confirm whatever strange species you come across.

Another good reason to go check out the ocean!  You never know what you might find, and it might just help scientific research!