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Marine Life & Conservation

Whale world record and the power of citizen science

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A sperm whale has been observed in the Azores archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic ocean over a 34 year time span, setting an observation record in the Atlantic and very possibly the world. The observations over this record-breaking time span were made by a combination of scientists and citizen scientists, showing once again the power of this increasingly prominent branch of science.

34 year record

The female sperm whale “19” was first seen in 1987 in the Azores during the research cruises of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Scientists know she is a female, because she was spotted with several calves over the years. Thirty-four years later she was spotted again by cetacean scientist Lisa Steiner of Whale Watch Azores.

In between she was recorded in 1991, 1994, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015, 2016 and 2021 by a combination of science and citizen science projects. She has not been seen outside of the Azores, but it is possible that her group has travelled to other parts of Macaronesia, like several other groups have.

CSI of the seas

Steiner, who is based on the Azores and has followed whales around the North Atlantic for 33 years, says: “Whale tails (flukes) are like fingerprints. By photographing flukes and then matching them up like a CSI of the seas, we can trace the movements of the animals. Being able to follow an animal for 34 years is amazing and once again shows the power of long-term datasets.” The significance of such findings goes well beyond mere scientific curiosity, however. As Steiner explains, “hearing the histories of individual whales catches the public’s imagination, because personal stories are much more interesting to the general public than generalisations, leading to increased interest and support. That support is priceless when protections for animals are being considered”.

Lisa Steiner (right) with citizen scientists spotting whales in front of Pico Island, Azores

Death and conservation

One example is whale “3418”, also a sperm whale, who was killed by a high-speed ferry in the Canaries. He had been seen for 15 years in the Azores, beginning when he was still a calf, before making the trip to the Canary Islands. His tragic and premature death is being used to promote speed limits of the high-speed inter-island ferries around the Canaries.

Citizen science gathers valuable data

Citizen science is defined as public participation in scientific research. Outcomes are often advancements in scientific research, as well as an increase in the public’s understanding of science. In nature conservation in particular, international citizen science has become increasingly important as a duel stream of data and funding. An example of this, citizen scientists of Biosphere Expeditions (an international non-profit NGO at the forefront of wildlife conservation powered by citizen science) have worked with Steiner on an annual Azores expedition since 2004 and contributed to this record-breaking fluke dataset.

Sperm whale fluke (c) Lisa Steiner

Dr. Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, says the NGO “is proud to have contributed a piece of the puzzle to this Atlantic or possibly world record. This shows again how citizen science is part of the solution. This recent achievement is just the latest in a long line of citizen science contributions since our foundation in 1999, such as the creation of protected areas on four continents, amongst many others. Thank you to all our citizen and professional scientist, as well as all the other helpers over the years.”

For more information about Biosphere Expeditions visit their website by clicking here.

Header image: Sperm whale and calf (c) Gabriel Barathieu

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Statement from Captain Paul Watson on his resignation from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (USA)

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It is with great relief that as of July 27th, 2022, I have ceased my employment and cut all ties with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (USA).

Since 1977, when I founded Sea Shepherd nearly a half century ago, I have dedicated my entire life to the aggressive and determined preservation and protection of biodiversity of marine life and our ocean.

Over the last few years, I have been slowly marginalized from the organization that I created in the USA. I was removed from the Board of Directors, my advice ignored, my close associates terminated and directors that supported me were removed. I was reduced to being a paid figurehead, denied the freedom to organize campaigns and the freedom to express the strong opinions that I have held for decades, opinions and campaigns that have shaped what Sea Shepherd has become and continues to be outside the borders of the United States.

As I said in the documentary movie Watson, my role is to rock the boat, to make waves, to provoke people to think about the damage we are collectively inflicting upon diversity and interdependence of life in the ocean.

The current Board seeks to turn our vessels away from confronting illegal poachers that prey on endangered species and instead seeks to turn our fleet into non-controversial research vessels. Research has always been a part of Sea Shepherd efforts, but it has not and should not be our priority. What we have provided is a unique function: a fearless leadership to intervene against poachers on the high seas, to document and to stop illegal acts that would otherwise go unnoticed and unchallenged. Sea Shepherd has always, and must always go where others fear to go, to say the things that must be said and to tackle the obstacles fearlessly and with great resolve.

The new direction that the present Board of Sea Shepherd USA has decided upon is not a path that I can in good conscience support nor participate in. I have not changed my objectives or resolve, and I refuse to change and adopt an approach that diminishes the incredible movement that we have created over the last four and a half decades, a movement that continues to grow outside the borders of the United States.

I remain a director of Sea Shepherd Global, and I remain a supporter of Global ships, officers, and crew. Together with all other national Sea Shepherd entities, with the exception of the USA, I will continue to support our campaigns around the world utilizing our unique philosophy of aggressive non-violence and cooperation with governments and NGOs.

We are Sea Shepherd. We are direct action motivated by imagination, persistence, and courage.

My future lies with the people from around the world who have made and continue to make Sea Shepherd the most influential, passionate, and effective marine conservation movement on this planet.

Captain Paul Watson

Founder – Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Canada (1977)

Founder – Sea Shepherd Conservation Society USA (1981)

 

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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean is back

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The Marine Conservation Society’s annual Great British Beach Clean is back, running from 16th – 25th September 2022.

The charity is calling for volunteers across the UK to join them at the coast for a week of beach cleaning and litter surveying.

The Great British Beach Clean, sponsored by Ireland’s number one soup brand, Cully & Sully, is more than just a clean up. Every year volunteers make note of the litter they collect, sharing the data with the Marine Conservation Society’s experts. The charity has used data collected to campaign for carrier bag charges, single-use plastic bans and deposit return schemes.

Last year, volunteers collected over 5 tonnes of litter, with an average of 3.85 items found for every metre of beach surveyed across the UK.

Clare Trotman, Beachwatch Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We wouldn’t be able to do the work we do at the Marine Conservation Society without the support of our volunteers heading out to the coast to collect vital information on what’s polluting our seas.

“With beach cleans happening across the UK, from remote beaches to busy seaside resorts, there’s so many ways to get involved and support us this year. If you can’t make it to the beach, you can still take part by doing a local litter pick and survey where you live.”

At last year’s Great British Beach Clean, 75% of all litter collected was made from plastic and polystyrene.

From production to disposal, plastic has a direct impact on the ocean’s capacity to combat the climate crisis. Manufacturing plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Most plastic is produced using fossil fuels, meaning more plastic production results in increased carbon emissions. Plastic is also entering the food chain, from tiny phytoplankton to ocean giants, like whales.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Pollution, whether it’s big, small or even invisible, is having a hugely negative impact on our ocean and all those who rely on it – including us. Tiny microplastics are being eaten by plankton at the very foundation of ocean ecosystems, animals big and small are being tangled in plastic packaging, turtles are mistaking it for food, and chemical pollution is changing the ocean’s chemistry.

“All of this is an alarming picture of the state of our seas, but each and every volunteer who joins the Great British Beach Clean helps us research the scale of pollution in the UK. This research is vital to stop pollution at source, and we know it works. Cleaner beaches will support a healthy ocean, and a healthy planet.”

Cullen Allen (Aka Cully) from Cully & Sully said: “We’re delighted to be part of the Great British Beach Clean 2022. We’ve supported beach cleans in Ireland for the past 4 years and are excited about extending our commitments to the Great British Beach Clean. We’re excited to take part and get started, and of course spread the word on the importance of keeping our beaches and public spaces clean”.

Join the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean as an organiser, or volunteer, this year. Sign up via the charity’s website: www.mcsuk.org/greatbritishbeachclean.

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