Sea Watch is a national charity dedicated to research and conservation of cetaceans (whales, dolphin and porpoise) around the UK.
Last year we received funding from the marine conservation charity, Sea Changers for boat based surveys in south and west Wales. Due to a rather windy year we were unable to actually undertake this trip till April 2016. However, the trip was well worth the wait.
Working with Gower Coast Adventures, a partner of Welsh Sea Watchers and SEACAMS scheme and a Sea Watch recommended boat operator (we recommend boat operators who follow the code of conduct for boats around cetaceans and collect valuable data for us), we aimed for a 2-hour coastal survey from Swansea along the Gower. All the sightings meant that it was actually a much longer journey out.
The trip was a fantastic success and plenty of porpoise were seen, and even better photographed. Porpoise can be very difficult to photograph as they are often very shy around boats and usually don’t reach lengths of more than 1.5m.
As mentioned above, Gower Coast Adventures are part of the SEACAMS data collection scheme. Working in co-ordination with Sea Watch and Bangor University, Gower Coast Adventures has been using a specially produced app to record sightings and track the path of the boat while out at sea. This app frees up the boat operators from having to send in forms and the tracking of the app means that it is easier for them to collect the data. The SEACAMS project is now in its fourth year and has recently funded a c-pod for Porthcawl too (a c-pod is a passive acoustic monitoring device that detects cetaceans from the echolocation). So far the SEACAM tablets have collected over 1000 hours of data for Sea Watch, helping us garner a stronger understanding of cetaceans around Wales.
The Welsh Sea Watchers Project is open to all residents of Wales. We are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help us collect data and raise public awareness on Welsh cetaceans. We are also looking for boat operators to join us and help collect boat based data and helping to conserve these amazing animals.
The trip was run by Chloe Robinson who wrote wrote an article on the trip for the Sea Watch webpage: www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/a-change-at-sea
Here is Chloe’s account:
“Sat in my car in Swansea Marina with the rain pouring down, I thought to myself how best I could protect my camera, binoculars and data recording sheets, whilst out on the boat in what was forecast to be heavy showers and gusty winds. To everyone’s surprise, the minute we stepped on our boat for the day, the Sea Serpent, the sun broke through the clouds. After our briefing from Dave and Lizzie (Gower Coast Adventures), we headed out to sea and blue sky soon appeared. Armed with binoculars, cameras and plenty of layers, for a lot of people this was the first chance they have had to get out on a boat and undertake a cetacean watch off Swansea Bay. Not many members of the public are aware of the array of sea life that is frequently seen around Gower, so this was a great opportunity to capture and share the secrets of Swansea Bay’s wildlife for all to see.
As soon as we were 15 minutes into our watch it was clear that we were all wearing a few too many layers! The sun was out and we had a constant sea state of 1 – perfect porpoise spotting conditions. Before long we had our first sighting – two harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) surfaced a few times about 200 metres from the boat before heading off South. Everyone was elated that we had seen some marine life so early on in our trip, despite it being a distant sighting; little did we know things were going to get even better. Throughout the duration of our trip down to Worm’s Head, we had a further two sightings of porpoise, one of which was a very close encounter which allowed us to take some pictures and observe behaviour. This trip was a good opportunity for everyone on board to have a go at recording effort data and we had lots of marine bird sightings, including terns, gannets, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and Manx shearwaters to keep us entertained as we journeyed on. As conditions were ideal and the sun continued to shine, we took a little trip around the corner of Worm’s Head to have a peek at any seals which had hauled out for a sunbathe. There was one lone harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) which was fast asleep until a swell lapped up the rocks and gave him a rude awakening.
On our way back to the marina we were surrounded by porpoise, one after the other! Every time we had filled out the sightings form, recorded data and taken some photos more porpoise popped up all over the place. We had some fabulously close encounters (some too close in fact) and revelled in sunning ourselves while watching Swansea’s cetaceans doing what they do best. Three and a half hours later after a very successful and enjoyable boat trip we arrived back at the marina as the sun began to set over Mumble’s Head.
Overall we saw 15 porpoise over 8 separate sightings and a wide array of sea birds. Sun, sea and porpoises – what more could you want?”
WELSH SEA WATCHER FACTS
The Welsh Sea Watchers Project started in September 2013 aiming to recruit volunteers all around Wales.The project has recruited over 400 volunteers across Wales and collected thousands of hours of data.
Welsh Sea Watchers are still being recruited and the project is open to all residents of Wales and no experience is necessary.