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Cetaceans and conservation: My summer with the CRRU

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Cetacean

Summer breaks are the opportunity for people to explore new areas and to relax in the sunshine. Mine however took a different angle, spending it in a small village in the north of Scotland. The north east Scottish coastline has a high biodiversity of marine mammals, and provides the perfect setting for innovative work in marine conservation.

The Banff-based CRRU (Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit) was set up in 1997, growing in size thanks to its unstoppable group of dedicated volunteers. Come rain or shine, they are working to improve our knowledge of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in our UK waters, from the ever-popular bottlenose dolphin to the lesser known minke whale.

Cetacean

So where do I start? My summer with the CRRU was a completely eye opening experience. It was my first volunteer experience in this field as a research intern, and I saw more species than I could possibly list; rare birds and marine mammals which people only dream of seeing. But I also felt like I made a difference. Even in my short time there. Not a single day there was ever the same, allowing me to develop different skills and learn different tactics for conservation.

Cetacean

The first few days I was there, a lot of our time was used to learn. Learning about the charity, how to collect data, about the species we would be working with and why what is being done is so important. This allowed the research teams to bond and learn how to work together quickly and effectively so when we finally found the animals we could complete the necessary data forms quickly, thereby causing minimum disruption to the study animals.

The rest of my time was spent between conservation, fund-raising, research and of course having fun! We would spend our days doing a variety of different activities, from beach cleans to watching gannet colonies from the cliff tops.

Cetacean

The charity has an unfathomable amount of publications on the work that they do, and their papers, research and data are used globally for the protection of the species studied. The charity’s science team works tirelessly throughout the summer in Scotland to collect data to improve current knowledge of the whales and dolphins of the Moray Firth. So far, their work has been invaluable to the protection of minke whales in north-east coastal waters resulting in recommendation for the first ever MPA (Marine Protected Area) for these coastal cetaceans in the UK.

Cetacean

Due to being a relatively small charity, the CRRU has limited funding, however. Currently all of their work is being carried-out from one of two small, rigid inflatable boats, but ongoing fundraising is being conducted for a new, much larger vessel which would allow the charity to continue its long-term monitoring studies. The current boats, first used in 2000, are becoming too old and are struggling to keep up with the increasing workload. The research team has a wide variety of work they are attempting to do from the boats when they meet their study species. Currently they are attempting to get biopsies from minke whales to allow them to learn more about what the whales are eating and evaluate the levels of pollutants in their bodies and the surrounding marine environment. They also do behavioural studies and attempt to do temporary tagging of whales so they can study their movements and diving behaviour, which is all very relevant to abundance estimates currently used to designate unfavourable whaling quotas to neighbouring whaling countries such as Norway and Iceland, that sadly still harvest these whales. The new boat will also be central to the CRRU’s emergency response teams for live-stranded whales and dolphins across Scotland. The larger boat will allow the rescue teams to carry more equipment and operate in often inclement and unfavourable sea conditions.

Cetacean

While I was with the CRRU, I was able to gain a qualification in Marine Mammal Rescue, which means I can now act as a volunteer Marine Mammal Medic, assisting in ongoing UK rescue efforts for sick or stranded whales and dolphins which inevitably get into trouble around the UK coastline each year. The course, which is made up of both practical and theory based sessions is run by the charity as a free service to interested volunteers. So far they have trained over 1,600 people in Scotland. They don’t do this work for the research but to look after the welfare of the animals. The CRRU have a 24/7 line for people to call if they find a stranded marine animal, and they operate the only dedicated specialist response team for whales, dolphins and porpoises in Scotland. For more information about the charity’s rescue efforts, Check out their website here.

Don’t just take my word for it – to me and many people who have joined the CRRU as a volunteer intern, this is an amazing opportunity with fantastic people who know so much in this field. So why don’t you try it out too? Summer placements are now being accepted for 2017 – click here to find out more.

If you would like to donate towards the new boat, you can also help by clicking on their fundraising page here.

Lauren Fidler is a Marine Biology and Oceanography student at Plymouth university, hoping to specialise in marine conservation. She is also a keen diver and photographer.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

The world’s 12 best places to snorkel with whales

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Whales have captivated our imagination for centuries and snorkeling with whales is one of life’s best experiences. Whether you want to meet them in the tropics or under the Arctic sun, there is a whale adventure for you. Here is our guide to the world’s best places to snorkel with whales.

HUMPBACK WHALES

Humpback whales are found at destinations worldwide, making them easy to spend time with. These huge whales are known for their spectacular breaches and complex song and are just as rewarding whether you watch them from a boat or get in the water.

  1. Tonga

If you want to snorkel in clear blue waters with humpback mothers and their calves, visit Tonga. It is one of the most popular places to swim with humpbacks, where you can choose from day safaris or longer trips. Just make sure you book early so you don’t miss out.

When to go: July to September.

  1. Moorea, French Polynesia

French Polynesia is the perfect place to combine a luxurious getaway with a humpback whale swim safari and world-class snorkeling. There are endless snorkeling spots, beautiful beachside resorts and numerous whales. If you want to try scuba diving for the first time, the diving in Moorea is ideal for beginners. The reefs are pristine, the waters are sheltered, and you can swim with Moorea’s famously friendly stingrays whilst you’re there.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

The Silver Bank marine reserve provides a safe winter haven for the North Atlantic humpback whale population whilst they gather to mate, calve and raise their young. There are various liveaboard operators that offer multi-day safaris dedicated solely to learning about and swimming with these charming whales. This is a great option if you want to immerse yourself fully in the world of whales.

When to go: January to April.

4. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

UNESCO-listed Ningaloo Reef hosts tens of thousands of humpback whales each year and is also a migratory route for dolphins, dugongs and manta rays. Lacking the crowds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it is the most peaceful place to swim with humpback whales in Australia.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia

Hervey Bay – the world’s first World Whale Heritage Site – has been called the whale watching capital of the world, thanks to its abundant humpbacks. This conservation-focused destination is just a 3.5-hour drive north of Brisbane and offers day trips to swim with the whales.

Time your trip right and you can also enjoy the annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival and Paddle Out for Whales.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Reunion Island

Réunion lies 550 km east of Madagascar and is a lesser-known humpback whale hotspot. With only a handful of people allowed in the water at any one time, it is a great destination for more intimate whale encounters.

When to go: August to September.

  1. Iceland

Iceland’s rich waters are a prime feeding ground for humpbacks and offer a unique whale swim experience. Wearing a cozy dry suit, you can spend hours admiring these whales in Iceland’s incredible gin-clear waters.

When to go: June to August.

 DWARF MINKE WHALES

These pint-sized whales grow up to 8 meters long and were only discovered in the 1980s. They might be relatively new to the whale watching scene, but they are wonderful to swim with.

  1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Known for being exceptionally friendly, dwarf minke whales create truly memorable encounters as they swim around you, under you and sometimes even between your fins.

Hop on a minke whale safari at Cairns and enjoy. Go snorkeling or try Great Barrier Reef diving whilst you’re there to experience the incredible wonders of this enormous reef system.

When to go: June to July.

SPERM WHALES

Weighing up to 50 tons and reaching 15 – 20 meters long, sperm whales are one of the most sought-after and impressive whale species to swim with.

  1. Dominica

The sheer drop-offs and deep sheltered bays around Dominica are perfect for sperm whales, and the females and calves stay there all year. After just a short boat ride from the coast, you will be swimming with these amazing animals in calm azure waters.

When to go: Year-round, though November to March is peak season.

BLUE WHALES

Weighing up to a staggering 200 tonnes, blue whales are enormous, and there are two great places you can swim with them.

  1. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the only places where you can swim with blue whales, watch them from a boat, or go whale spotting in small airplanes – which is arguably the best way to get an idea of their sheer size.

When to go: March to April.

  1. San Diego, California

Baja California hosts the largest population of blue whales in the world every summer and there are a small number of operators that offer blue whale swimming safaris from San Diego. With small group sizes and week-long programs, they are perfect for maximizing your time with these huge whales.

When to go: June to October.

BELUGA WHALES

Beluga whales are easy to recognize thanks to their bright white coloring and rounded heads. These highly social animals are one of the most vocal whales and gather in large groups in Canada.

  1. Churchill, Canada

Tens of thousands of beluga whales gather each year in Hudson Bay and the small town of Churchill offers unique trips to swim with them. You can enjoy close-up encounters with hundreds of belugas in the water, plus spot polar bears, moose, Arctic foxes and more whilst you’re there.

When to go: June to September.

If you can’t get enough of whales, read the SSI guide to diving with whales to discover even more destinations where you can meet these giants of the ocean.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.

 

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Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Staci-lee Sherwood about how light pollution in Florida is harming sea turtle hatchlings (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Staci-lee Sherwood, Founder & Former Director of S.T.A.R.S – Sea Turtle Awareness Rescue Stranding – about Florida’s latest assault on sea turtles and why the global community should be concerned.

You can read more about this issue in a blog written by Staci-lee on Scubaverse here.

Find out more about Staci-lee on Instagram and YouTube @realitycheckswithstacilee


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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