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Rise in Scottish dolphin sightings to be studied

A series of research expeditions aims to find out more about why sightings of common dolphins off western Scotland have more than doubled in recent years.

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Monitoring by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust teams has seen the number of encounters with common dolphins increase by 68 per cent over the last 12 years in the Hebrides – but the reasons for the rise are still unclear.

Common dolphins come to the Hebrides in spring to take advantage of seasonal food stocks, travelling in large groups and sometimes forming “super-pods” of thousands of individuals.

The species, which are smaller than the area’s resident bottlenose dolphins, often approach boats and play in the wake, the trust said.

They were once rarely seen in the Hebrides, preferring warmer waters found further south.

But climate change is causing sea surface temperatures in the Hebrides to rise by around 0.5C a decade, and warmer water species appear to be colonising new areas further north or closer to shore, the trust said.

The shift north could be creating new opportunities for the common dolphins to find food in new areas, but may mean the species is competing for fish with other types of dolphin or seabirds.

Colder water species such as the white beaked dolphin could be forced to retreat further north, and while the trust said it had found no evidence of the white beaked dolphin being displaced, continued monitoring of the situation was needed.

The charity is calling for volunteers to join its research vessel Silurian to help conduct visual surveys, acoustic monitoring and identification of cetaceans, which include dolphins, whales and porpoises, as well as helping to run the yacht.

Dr Conor Ryan, sightings and strandings officer at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust said: “An increase in common dolphins means that those wishing to encounter dolphins in the wild are in luck – but further research is needed to explain why this is happening, the extent to which it has been caused by human activity and the implications for other cetacean species.”

Kerry Froud, the trust’s biodiversity officer, added: “Our research expeditions depend on volunteers.

“In return they offer the opportunity of a lifetime to contribute to a better understanding of cetaceans and basking sharks, whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery of Scotland’s west coast and experiencing exhilarating sailing.”

• For more information about volunteering for the surveys, people can email volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620 or visit www.hwdt.org

Article taken from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/rise-in-scottish-dolphin-sightings-to-be-studied-1-3744525

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Hunt for Russian sub may have caused spate of whale and dolphin deaths

A hunt for a Russian submarine off Scotland’s west coast may be linked to a spate of whale and dolphin deaths, it emerged on Friday.

Conservation group Whale and Dolphin Conservation has asked the Ministry of Defence to detail what military movements took place off the Scottish and Irish coasts in December.

That month a naval chase took place aided by American planes after a periscope was spotted in waters off Faslane, where Royal Navy submarines normally surface as they head in or out of the base, home to Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

But since the search experts have been baffled by an increasing spate of mystery deaths around the west coast of Scotland, including several by the world’s deepest diving mammal.

Scientists at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust say they have now received 15 reports since mid-December of stranded Cuvier’s beaked whales, a species that is rarely seen due to its offshore distribution.

The strandings have occurred down the west coast between Scotland and Ireland including two on Mull, South Uist, Benbecula, Tiree and Kintyre.

In addition other species of whale and dolphin have washed ashore along the west coast, including a killer whale on the Uists.

Now conservationists want to know if sonar in particular – which can damage cetaceans and has been suspected in past strandings – was used in the submarine hunt.

Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, said he was still waiting for the MoD’s response.

“WDC has asked the MoD for answers, which will be passed on to me,” he said. “They want to know what military activity was taking place in the area at the time.

“It is possible that these strandings are linked to certain military activity. It is something we are looking at. But the animals were so badly decomposed we shall probably never know the answer,” he said.

Samples from some of the dead Cuviers have been sent to Dr Brownlow for analysis.

Dr Conor Ryan, sightings and strandings officer for HWDT, added: “What we do know is that there has been a large and sudden cluster event.

“It may be biological or it may be man made? We are concerned because we have not known anything like this for the last six to eight years. We do not know why and we may never know, especially given the state of the animals.”

Cuvier’s whales can grow up to 23ft-long and are widely distributed in tropical to cool temperate waters. Northern Scotland represents their northern-most limit.

The species is the current world-record holder for the longest and deepest known dive for a mammal – down to 2992 metres for two hours and 17 minutes. The pressure at this depth is 300 kg per square centimetre.

Other than the pair of teeth in adult males, beaked whales are toothless and are thought to use suction to catch their prey.

In a statement on its website, WDC said: “The mass stranding of rare, deep-diving whales along the coast of Ireland last December could be linked to a reported search by British navy warships for a suspected Russian submarine.

“Eight rarely sighted Cuvier’s beaked whales have been found off the Irish coast in recent weeks together with a number of common dolphins, a minke whale, a sperm whale, pilot whales, a fin whale, and harbour porpoises. The total of 33 whales and dolphins washed up dead on Irish shores so far this year is a record. Last year a number of Cuvier’s beaked whale deaths in Crete were thought to be due to military exercises in the area. Investigations following Britain’s largest mass dolphin stranding in 2008 concluded that the only realistic cause was military exercises taking place in the area at the time. Noise pollution threatens whale and dolphin populations, interrupting their normal behaviour, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or sometimes even causing their deaths. For whales and dolphins, ‘listening’ is as important as ‘seeing’ is for humans, yet there are still no international regulations regarding noise pollution in the world’s seas.”

Article taken from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/11395236/Hunt-for-Russian-sub-may-have-caused-spate-of-whale-and-dolphin-deaths.html

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Government failing to adequately protect marine life, say wildlife experts

The Government has been accused of “dragging its feet” on protecting the seas, as it announced fewer than two dozen potential sites for new conservation areas.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has proposed 23 new marine conservation zones in the second stage of creating a network of protected areas in the seas around England – down from 37 candidate sites announced last year.

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So far, just 27 marine conservation zones have been designated in English waters, although 127 sites were recommended by regional groups tasked with drawing up potential sites to protect ocean species and habitats.

Conservationists warn the latest set of proposed conservation zones, which will now be subject to public consultation, are missing key sites and putting habitats and wildlife ranging from large seagrass meadows to the spiny seahorse at risk.

Wildlife experts say a “truly ecologically coherent network of sites” is needed to protect marine wildlife and restore the seas and fish stocks after decades of neglect and decline.

Defra said the 23 proposed sites would cover more than 10,000 sq km (3,800 sq miles), protecting important seabed habitats and species, and it hoped to designate them within a year, with a third tranche to follow later.

Marine environment minister George Eustice said: “We’re doing more than ever to protect our seas, preserving incredible underwater landscapes and helping our sea life flourish. We’ve already created 27 marine conservation zones and a quarter of English inshore waters are in protected areas.”

But he said: “It is important we secure the future of our coastal communities as part of our long-term economic plan. We want to support these communities while protecting our marine life.”

Sites proposed for designation in the second tranche of conservation zones include Allonby Bay on the Cumbrian Coast which has blue mussel beds and living reefs, and coast between Bideford and Foreland, home to pink sea fans and anemones.

The latest proposals also include Fulmar, 140 miles off the Northumberland coast, protecting sandy and muddy habitat in the North Sea which is inhabited by clams, cockles and the brittlestar.

But conservationists said important areas such as Studland Bay, Dorset, with seagrass meadows that are home to breeding seahorses and juveniles of species such as bass, bream and flatfish, and sites around the Isle of Wight have been missed out.

Marine Conservation Society biodiversity and fisheries programme manager Dr Peter Richardson said: “We are alarmed that these proposed MCZs (Marine Conservation Zones) have been shelved, at least for the time being. We believe all of the sites are necessary to achieve the Government’s stated commitment to deliver a full network. Delaying 14 sites means that a number of the UK’s iconic marine places and habitats are still not adequately protected.”

He added: “This decision doesn’t match urgent conservation needs, or indeed, the ambition of the public, who continue to demonstrate their support for the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in UK seas.”

WWF-UK’s head of marine policy Dr Lyndsey Dodds said the 14 sites had been dropped from the 37 originally identified for this round of consultation despite clear cross-party and public support.

“This is a cause for huge concern, and shows government is dragging its feet on this issue. If we are to see an ecologically coherent network of marine protected sites established to safeguard the ecological and economic sustainability of our seas, we need clear leadership from government. Although we welcome this consultation we call on the government to go much further, and stop deferring difficult decisions on marine conservation. It is vital that all 23 in this new consultation are designated, or we risk long-term damage on ecological and economic grounds.”

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/30/government-failing-adequately-protect-marine-life-say-wildlife-experts

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‘End Taiji Now’ Protest Coming to London

The horrific annual dolphin slaughter in Japan continues to garner international outrage, and rightly so. Every year, pods of dolphins are corralled into a tiny cove in Taiji, where they are slaughtered in front of their relatives who are forced to continue swimming in their blood. The ‘lucky’ ones (although that term is debatable) are shipped off to aquariums such as the increasingly controversial Sea World, to be forced to perform tricks for unsuspecting fee-paying tourists.

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This yearly blood bath is truly heartbreaking. Every single year we’re subjected to more pictures and footage of Japanese dolphin captors butchering their carcasses in the most inhumane, barbaric ways. The trauma, pain and fear the dolphins fear is palpable and quite why Japan refuses to do anything about this despite worldwide condemnation is mind boggling.

Despite countless pleas to the Japanese government by politicians, celebrities, members of the public and even ex-dolphin hunters, they continue to stick their fingers in their ears and their bloodied hands in the water, all for the sake of the almighty power they most follow: money.

Well, people are starting to say enough is enough. And this year for the first time, a group of protesters from a range of charities and pressure groups will come together in London on January 17th to send a strong, clear message to Japan right outside their own embassy. Over a thousand people are expected to attend and show the Japanese people that the world isn’t going to sit back and accept this, no matter how much they try and hide or deny what they’re clearly doing.

Organised by London Against the Dolphin Massacre, the protest will also feature the Born Free Foundation, Care for the Wild International and many more.

The protest begins in Cavendish square from 11am and will march from 12.30pm to Trafalgar Square through Central London.

For more information, visit the event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1060275823988390/

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