HWDT is committed to the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) off the west coast of Scotland through our research into their distribution, abundance and behaviour.
The waters west of Scotland are extremely productive. The long and complex coastline, interaction of currents and wide variety of habitats provide a rich environment for marine life. The region is home to cetacean species typical of both warm and cold oceans, with a high level of biodiversity.
Until recently, remarkably little was known about Hebridean cetaceans. HWDT’s work means we now know more about the distribution, movements, habitats and behaviours of the area’s whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Our scientists and volunteers travel thousands of miles each summer aboard our research yacht Silurian. We conduct surveys for cetaceans, and also take photographs of their distinctive markings to track their movements. HWDT has also established a Community Sightings Network for members of the public to report sightings and strandings of cetaceans.
Collaborative research is an important part of HWDT’s work. These are some of our ongoing projects.
Renewable energy in the form of wind, tide and wave power are exciting new technologies which offer a promising low-carbon option for our energy needs. However, we still have much to learn about the possible impacts they may have on marine mammals, both in their operation and construction. These may include problems with underwater noise, collision risk and habitat loss. It’s important to work on filling these knowledge gaps.
Tidal and wind power installations are planned for several areas of Hebridean waters such as off Tiree, Islay and Kintyre. With many years of experience surveying the west of coast of Scotland, HWDT is in a good position to provide our expertise in the form of surveys and data to the organisations involved.
We are currently taking part in a project funded by the Scottish Government in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) to investigate the potential for collision risk of harbour porpoises and tidal turbines at sites of high tidal stream energy. This includes detailed surveys of the Sound of Islay using Silurian. Further work with marine renewables is planned.
Predator control at aquaculture sites
The west coast of Scotland is an important area for aquaculture, in particular salmon farming, which is an important part of the local economy. However, Scotland’s coasts are also home to the majority of the UK’s seal populations (both grey and common). Interactions between seals and fish farms have long been a difficult and controversial management issue. In conjunction with the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews, HWDT is taking part in a project funded by the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF) to investigate how effective different forms of predator control at fish farm sites are. In particular we are looking at acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs), sound emitting equipment that many sites use to scare seals away. There has been much debate over how useful these devices are in stopping seals predating on fish farms, as well as research to show they can frighten away porpoises and other cetaceans from important habitats. As part of the project, hydrophones have been set up at two aquaculture sites around Mull to investigate porpoise densities with and without ADDs in operation, and fish farm managers are being interviewed to find out their experience of the problem and its possible solutions.
Minke entanglement project
The west coast of Scotland is an important area for fishing which contributes significantly to the local economy. The area is also important for minke whales, which visit the west coast of Scotland every summer to feed.
Minke whale entanglements have been regularly recorded from strandings events since 1992. However, the scale of entanglement mortality and the exact causes of such entanglements have not been investigated in any detail.
We are currently taking part in a project funded by the Scottish Government in collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) to investigate the interactions between Scottish fisheries and minke whales. The core aim of this project is to determine the extent of entanglement of minke whales in Scottish waters, and where appropriate suggest realistic recommendations for mitigation.