Bye bye Dolphineers

Another summer on the Isle of Man has come to an end, which means it is time for us Dolphineers to write our final blog post. It’s been a crazy summer on the island, but boy did we have fun!

We’ve been so lucky to have experienced such amazing marine life – birds, basking sharks, seals, minke whales, Risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise, and even chunks of harbour porpoise (see one of our previous posts for more exciting details on that!) There is such diversity in the marine life found around the island – you’ll easily get lost staring at the sea for hours (which we did during our surveys!) You honestly don’t need to go far or pay loads of money to see whales and dolphins, just go down to the beach!

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Stinky minke whale

Working with the MWDW we were taught valuable skills in cetacean science, photo identification, data handling and processing, and public outreach. Not only did we get to contribute to the scientific research the charity does, but we also got involved in loads of public outreach events. These public events allowed us to share our passion of marine mammals with others, as well as meet amazing people who share our passion.

One of the exciting projects we worked on this summer was the relocation of the MWDW into a new office/shop on high street in Peel. We’ve spent the past two months painting, moving furniture, and decorating what will soon be the island’s first whale and dolphin visitor centre. We’re sad we won’t be able to see the final product… but get pumped because it’s going to look amazing!

Apart from work, we went on some amazing trips exploring the island with Tom, Jen, and Bryony. Some of our highlights were Glen Maye, Ballaglass Glen (with all the bluebells), and Glen Dhoon for Eloise’s birthday picnic on the beach. We also had the opportunity to go on several boat trips and experience seeing minke whales up close and personal!

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One of our favourite periods this summer was during the TT. The island really came to life with people visiting from all over the world to experience the crazy motorcycle races. Bryony and Jen took us to one of the races, and we nearly had heart attacks watching the motorcycles zooming by less than 2m away from us!

Overall, it was an all-round fantastic summer (even if we didn’t get much of a tan) filled with plenty of amazing memories and new friends – shout out to the Creek for all the banter!

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Jen, Tom, Eloise, Eleanor, and Bryony

Thank you to Tom, Jen, and Bryony for having us! We’ll be back before you know it!

Peace out,

Eloïse and Eleanor

xxx

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Dive into our office work!

Our work isn’t always dolphins and rainbows…

A large portion of the cetaceans sightings we collect come from our network of volunteers and the public. We use WhatsApp, Facebook and our websites ‘Report a Sighting’ form to collect public data. Every couple of days, we then collate the data from the different sources and go through all the reported sightings we’ve received. By doing so, we check that two or more reported sightings aren’t for the same individual or group of cetaceans (same species, date, time and location). We then enter the data into our websites sighting spreadsheet. For each sighting, we enter information regarding the observer, date, time, location, species, number of adults and juveniles, behaviour, location, and  latitude and longitude. Our spreadsheet is linked to our website, allowing visitors on the website to access all the various cetaceans sightings on the Isle of Man.

More than just doing research and surveys on the cetaceans, a big part of the charity’s work is raising awareness and educating the general public on the amazing cetaceans species that can be found in Manx waters. We regularly hosts public watch events, public talks, evening dinner and drink events! In order to draw attention to these events, we create promotional posters and flyers. These are always quite fun to do, as we get to be very creative and use pretty cetacean pictures that we’ve captured over the years. Once the poster is completed, we get copies printed and take them around Peel and other locations on the Island to be advertised in shops and pubs.

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As the day for an event approaches, we start to prepare and organise everything we plan on doing or taking to the event. For fairs, this involves making sure we have all the equipment for our stand – tables and gazebo;  informative posters and boards; membership information; kids’ corner and games; as well as items we have for sale such as ID lanyards, cards, posters, and hand-made sea-glass jewellery. Our beloved life-size porpoise, Perkyn, always makes an appearance and boy does he love the attention!

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Public communication is a very important aspect of our work at MWDW, specifically the sightings information, images and videos we receive on a daily basis. We try and make sure that every message and email that we receive is replied to promptly, and that we answer any questions you may have about our cetacean species (and any other marine questions, too!) We also love looking through (and replying to) your responses to the videos and images we post!

For those of you who like to know about what we are getting up to in a little more detail, we have our website articles and our volunteers blog (which you are reading right now!) We spend time each week updating our blog with posts about the comings and goings of the charity, and we share some interesting images too. It gives you the chance to get to know us (the Dolphineers) a little better. The articles can be found on our website, and provide insight into the workings of the charity (including work with other organisations) in a more formal way.

In addition to the admin work that we do, we also spend time putting together our membership packs. Each pack is put together with love and care, ready to be delivered to you! And our children’s packs contain fun activities and games, designed and created by us! We make sure that there is something for everyone. If you would like to become a member then head to the ‘Get Involved’ section of our website!

As so many of you send us your photos and videos, we allocate a lot of time to making sure that they are all collated properly and saved for use in our upcoming gallery (watch this space!) We regularly receive beautiful content that you have taken from boats, land and sometimes even the sky! Last month we received a video of Risso’s dolphins displaying a never-before-seen feeding behaviour, which really helped us with our research into their feeding methods. Often we receive images of dorsal fins, which can be used in photographic identification. You all contribute so much to our work!

Feeding Minkes, and Porpoise Remains…

On a calm Tuesday morning, the sun rose slowly over Peel cathedral, filling our room with a pleasant glow. The birds chirped, the trees rustled in the breeze and all was tranquil…

“GIRLS, WAKE UP! WE HAVE TO BE IN PORT ST. MARY IN FORTY MINUTES!!”

The peaceful morning had been shattered by an overly excited Jen, calling us down urgently in order to head off to Port St. Mary so that we could go surveying on one of our MWDW member’s boat. Minke whales had been spotted off Port St. Mary the day before, so we went out with the hope of photographing them for our photo-ID catalogue. The sea was flat and calm as we headed out of the harbour, beginning our journey offshore. In the distance, a small raft of gannets and guillemots floated on the surface of the water, occasionally diving for small fish – a sure sign of cetacean activity! As we neared the birds, the engines were cut and the cameras were set up (including that pesky GoPro!) Suddenly, we heard a loud ‘pfft’ and turned around… it was Minkes! Their dark bodies curved up out of the water, revealing their small dorsal fin about ¾’s of the way down their back. It was a magical sight. To our delight, the Minke whales came very close to the boat – one of them at maybe 5 metres away! This allowed us to get amazing pictures and video footage of them feeding around the boat. One Minke whale even swam right under the boat, and we got a clear view of its beautiful white striped pectoral fins!

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Minke Whale

Thank you for the beautiful photo, Kirrie!

Once the Minkes had past us and continued on their feeding journey, we decided to head off towards the Calf and West coast to find some dolphins and porpoises. We stopped near the Calf of Man for a wee coffee and biscuit break provided by our wonderful hosts. We then continued round the Calf of Man and stopped once again for some lunch, also provided by our lovely hosts (I promise we did more than just eat). Stomachs full and feeling content, we headed off again on our cetacean search and came across something a little unexpected…

After motoring about six miles offshore from Port Erin, we noticed a small gathering of herring gulls and black-backed gulls. As seabirds are often a good indicator of cetacean feeding we headed over to see what all the fuss was about. However, as we neared the birds we also noticed the dark head of a bull grey seal. We slowed down and continued to cautiously approach the birds and seal, wondering what had attracted the animals. To our surprise we came across what appeared to be chunks of blubber and skin. Being the intrigued scientist that we are, we straight away pulled the chunks out of the water to get a closer look at them… and boy we were surprised to discover that these were bits of a Harbour porpoise! It was clear to us that it was a juvenile Harbour porpoise, as one of the chunks we collected was part of its head. We decided to take two of the porpoise pieces back with us to Peel further inspect them, specifically to try and determine what could be responsible for the attack, as all the chunks had surprisingly clean, straight cuts.

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Retrieving pieces of porpoise from the freezer to analyse was probably one of the highlights of the summer! We set up a ‘lab’ outside in the garden to look at the bits that we had retrieved, and put our gloves on. We analysed the gashes and cuts on the skin of the porpoise, measuring each of them individually, as well as looking at any other unusual marks. Photographs of the body were also taken for our records, and to send to the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme and the London Zoological Society.

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A couple of days later we received a reply from both organisations, confirming our suspicions that the attack had been carried out by the bull seal that had been in the area. Although attacks like this one are relatively uncommon in UK waters, other accounts from Wales and Kent have been documented. This may seem a little brutal, but it is important to remember that this is part of nature and the circle of life!

All in a days work!

And thank you to Kirrie, Phil and Andrew for taking us out on such a wonderful day!

Getting Galps back in the water!

After a month of hard month of scraping, cleaning, and painting… our survey boat ‘Galps’ is finally back in the water where she belongs. Galps is a beautiful, 10 metre long Aquabell power boat with a large back deck and roof deck – perfect for whale watching!

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Galps before being repainted

Galps was in need of some proper cleaning up and a new ‘manicure’ (repainting of the hull).

Before applying the new coats of anti-fouling paint, we first had to scrape the old crumbly anti-foul off (which was the equivalent of getting rid of dry skin around nails before applying new polish! Gross!) This took two very long, very tiring days to complete, and resulted in all of us (especially Bryony) looking like blue Smurfs. Don’t worry Mom, we wore protective goggles and faces masks to ensure we did not breath in the anti-fouling dust!

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Scraping off the old anti-fouling paint

Once this was completed, we washed down the hull with water to get rid of any left over anti-foul dust and crumbs. At this point, poor Galps almost looked worse off than before.

The next step was to apply primer to the hull (same as applying a primer coat to nails before putting the proper colour on). The primer ensures that the anti-fouling will stick on properly to the hull. Applying the primer took us an entire day but was definitely worth the effort. Not only was the whole process of painting very satisfying to watch, but the end result finally made Galps’ hull uniform in colour and beautiful again.

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Newly painted hull (awaiting satisfying removal of masking tape on white edge)

The last step of Galps’ manicure was to apply the anti-fouling paint (i.e. manicure colour). Anti-fouling paint is applied to slow down the attachment of subaquatic organisms to the hull, such as barnacles and algae. This took us longer than the primer painting as we had to apply two coats to ensure full coverage of the hull. It did get a little stressful towards the end as we weren’t sure we’d finish in time to get the boat craned back into the water the next day. Luckily, we got some much needed help from MWDW members. Thank you Sue and Carol!

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Finally, Galps was all set to be put back in the water! The crane came to carry the boat into the harbour, and to our delight Galps floated gracefully!

A ‘Boatiful’ Day!

Another way that we collect data is by conducting boat-based surveys. These allow us to head further offshore to take important photos, which we can then use for photo ID. The dorsal fins of whale and dolphins are very similar to human fingerprints, and so this allows us to recognise individuals; especially the Risso’s dolphins, which have heavy scarring.

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Lately, we have had the opportunity to join Brian on a Manx Sea Life Safari aboard the infamous Grey Fox! As well as collecting data on the cetacean species we encounter, we also spend a lot of time talking to tourists and guiding them on what they can see. A good indicator of any dolphin and whale activity in the area is the presence of diving sea birds, such as gannets and guillemots.

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We also had the chance to head out on a boat trip from Port St. Mary, on the lookout for a pod of Risso’s dolphins that had recently been spotted along the east coast. We were fortunate enough to end up surrounded by a pod of friendly Risso’s, playing in the sunset. The calm sea state allowed us to learn how to use the camera (or not, in Eleanor’s case!) A beautiful white dolphin swam alongside our boat and Eleanor would have managed to get an amazing video of it… if she had pressed the record button on the GoPro!

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We headed back to Port St. Mary just as the sun set behind the cliffs, casting a golden light over a horizon of dorsal fins. What a boatiful day!

Our First Land-based Surveys!

As part of our Dolphineering duties we spend a lot of our time partaking in land-based surveys, weather depending! As part of this, we typically spend three hours scanning the waters for magical sea creatures (such as mermaids, sea monsters, whales, dolphins and porpoises). These long days out in the sun staring at the sea like lost sailors often result in many a giggle, and a good natter. Luckily, the weather on the Isle of Man has been extraordinarily good since we arrived in May – we keep telling everyone “it’s because we’re here!” This has given us ample opportunities to head out and survey (almost every day for two and a half weeks). The weather has drawn out locals and tourists alike, who are always keen to come and chat to us, take part in our surveying and sometimes educate us on what they have seen! It’s been especially fun to get the big, hairy bikers squealing like girls after seeing a dolphin!

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One thing we have noticed since starting our land-based surveys is the general public’s interest with basking sharks, also known as… Basking Shark Fever! Not that that’s a bad thing at all – as the second largest fish in the world, they are an iconic species in Manx waters. But it does result in many a shark-related question, even when there has been Risso’s dolphins swimming right by!

 

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We have had an especially good month for public sightings, too. Yielding 96 sightings in two weeks, 51 being sightings of Risso’s dolphins! We have personally had the chance to witness harbour porpoises, minke whales and Risso’s dolphins. The Risso’s are particularly fun to watch, due to their intriguing behaviours… head-slapping, tail-standing, leaping and logging! We’ve been so lucky with our sightings recently, and we hope to see more whilst we are here this summer.

Until next time, remember to ‘seas the day’!

Ballaglass Glen and the Wizard’s Spell

Having just arrived on the island, we set out on our first wee expedition (where we were left to brave the wilderness of the forests). A canopy of greenery spread far above our heads; dappled light shone through the trees, casting flecks of light and dark over the carpet of bluebells beneath our feet. Alone, we had no choice but to become one with nature, and to follow the bubbling river towards the sea.

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The walk through Ballaglass Glen was absolutely beautiful. The path loops around the forest, twisting through the trees and chasing the waterfalls. Being the great explorers that we are, we thought it would be a good idea to do a bit of ‘gorging’ – which was great! Until… Eloise slipped and covered her arse in mud. Luckily, the camera was spared! After trekking for what felt like hours – which, in reality was twenty minutes – hunger consumed us and we found a suitable moss-covered log on which we could eat. Eleanor was able to draw some of the bluebells and Eloise was able to wipe some of the mud off her butt!

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After this well-deserved break we continued on our hike, and stumbled upon a bluebell clearing, hidden deep within the forest. These beautiful blue cups were protected by a mighty wizard, whose powers were akin to Dumbledors’. Some say that Albus spends his summers here… Having looped around the Wizard’s Path, we regrouped with Tom and Jen (and Tom’s lovely parents), where we made it back to the warmth and comfort of Manx civilisation.

2018-05-20 13.22.43Until next time… remember to live your life with porpoise! Get it?