Britain’s citizen scientists come together to make a successful National Whale and Dolphin Watch

Bottlenose-dolphins-sighted-on-July-30th-©Laura-Harm-South-Brecqhou-Sark-Channel-Islands.jpg

The 2020 National Whale and Dolphin Watch event organized by the Sea Watch Foundation involved hundreds of volunteers from all around the British Isles, and it ran between 25th July and 2nd August.

  • At the moment of writing a total of 709 sightings have been submitted after the 9-day event and sightings continue to stream in
  • Scotland has recorded the highest number of sightings (n=323), closely followed by England (n=284), then Wales (n=88). Around the Channel Islands, observers reported 13 sightings, and there were also seven reports from around the Isle of Man. One sighting was recorded in Northern Ireland
  • Nine cetacean species (minke whale, bottlenose dolphin, humpback whale, harbour porpoise, killer whale, common dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, Atlantic white-side and white-beaked dolphins) were recorded, and two non-cetacean species (basking shark and sunfish)
  • Sightings were recorded from 280 locations from Shetland down to South Devon and from the west coast of Wales to the Outer Hebrides
  • Thirty two collaborating organizations have joined this year’s event with hundreds of volunteer observers involved in land and boat-watches

Humpback whale ©Chiara Giulia Bertulli

The most memorable sightings from this year’s Watch week include feeding humpback whales off Grishipoll, in the Inner Hebrides, leaping and fast swimming Risso’s dolphin groups sighted off the Outer Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney and NE Scotland, killer whale pods sighted off Shetland and around Caithness, common dolphins off and large pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins sighted around Shetland.”

Cetacean data collection is strongly weather dependant. Factors such as sea state, swell height and visibility to the horizon affect how easily animals can be detected during a watch. Heavy rain and wind can even cause watches to be cancelled altogether. For these reasons, every year, we rely heavily on good weather conditions for the success of National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Like previous years, this year’s event was scheduled over nine days to increase the chances of coinciding with a favourable weather window.
The weather forecast was wetter than last year and overall more changeable with hot temperatures mainly recorded towards the end of July.

White-beaked dolphins ©Chiara Giulia Bertulli

Despite the troubling times with coronavirus, this year’s event has shown the strongly supportive and committed spirit of our volunteer observers, which gives us hope for the future of our seas”, says Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sightings Officer at Sea Watch and lead organizer of this year’s event.

All the verified sightings so far can be viewed on line (https://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/nwdw-2020-sightings-data/) where they are updated as more reports come in

Sponsors have also donated amazing prizes for people who are returning their recording forms after conducting watches during NWDW: https://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/national-whale-dolphin-watch-2020-competition/

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