WEEK 2: It’s TT on the Isle of Man!

This week we welcomed thousands of sports fans from around the world.  All here to watch the world’s most famous (and deadly) motorbike race. We sat inches from the track as the bikes whizzed past at unbelievable speeds. The weather was hit and miss for the crowds. We did had some sunshine to sit and watch some of the races. Though I felt for the people, many of which had travelled from the other side of the world, to witness the races only for some of them be cancelled due to the infamously unpredictable Manx weather. I can honestly say in the past week I have seen more motorbikes than I have the rest of my entire life. Although I am far from a sports person it was pretty awesome to see the race close up.

We went surveying as much as we possibly could. Sadly though the Cetaceans have continued to avoid us. Trying not to take it too personally. Though it’s always difficult to face rejection especially from sea creatures. Of course we all face rejection at some point. It might as well come from whales and dolphins. Still the scenery remains beautiful and the people remain friendly, so I shan’t complain too much. Though I personally rarely do complain. I just offer a running commentary that happens to be negative.

We were supposed to have a stand at Peel day though sadly the poor weather struck again. We couldn’t risk our poor gazebo being ruthlessly swept out to sea by the wind. So had to cancel. Still there are many events still to come in the next few months. We did make it out to watch a motorbike stunt show and have a drink at the pub. So not all was lost.

Lots of office work this week. Learnt a lot.Sadly my reunion with excel was a disaster and I couldn’t remember a damn thing about how to use it. I have a excel proficiency certificate at home that clearly needs shredding; as it’s a lie in ink. I had more luck with photo identification and graphic design . We have also learnt how to use GIS (geographic information systems) and worked with lots of data analysis of public sightings. As well as continuing with our social media efforts. Sorting through our photos for photo identification of Risso dolphins.

The emergence of TT also highlighted the issues when it comes to staging a world class sporting event on a small island. Road closures an increased population and motorbikes. Everywhere . All. The. Time. Though the Isle of Man coped with it all very well. Though for me as an individual I could do without hearing the vroooommmmm!!! ever again my entire life.

Gemma

Edit: Just realised I didn’t take a single photo of a single bike so here is an emoji 🏍

 

 

 

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Our first week in the Isle of Man

118003F9-441A-4850-892D-B7F374857D0Ecetacean
/sɪˈteɪʃn/
noun
plural noun: cetaceans
  1. a marine mammal of the order Cetacea ; a whale, dolphin, or porpoise.

We arrived by ferry and plane having never set foot in the Isle of Man before. Trepidation and excitement in abundance. I arrived via ferry taking a mere 2hours and 45 minutes to get here. It was a very calm day at sea. Meaning the ferry managed to actually arrive early rather than with the lateness I’ve become acquired to on our trains! We have so far been blessed with miraculously good weather. The sun was shining and the sea was still. Perfect for land surveying. Which has lead us to be totally spoilt in terms of being able to survey with the stunning scenery of the Isle of Man being illuminated by the sun. We even managed to get slightly sunburnt which is pretty shocking for a British spring.

The first animals we saw were the admittedly adorable seals swimming playfully fairly close to us. Unfortunately these were the not the creatures we actually sought. We are here to survey the cetaceans and for that we needed a keen eye and patience. Scanning the horizon and ocean with our binoculars looking for any sign of the cetaceans that largely alluded us. Luckily Bryony a scientist who works for the whale and dolphin watch. (Who was teaching us how to survey). Appears to have developed some kind of cetacean spotting superpower over the years and managed to spot a basking shark in the far far distance. To much excitement from everyone. Hopefully over the next few months we shall all acquire such powers!

Later we had our introduction to the Manx whale and dolphin centre which only opened in January (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-isle-of-man-47022911/manx-whale-and-dolphin-watch-visitor-centre-in-peel-opens) which is so well put together. Filled with information about the amazing sea life in Peel and around the Isle of Man. We were informed on how we would be running the centre to best inform the public about the whales and dolphins. Not to mention the environmental struggles they face. One of the centres most important tasks is sharing public sightings of the cetaceans send to us on our website (https://www.mwdw.net/report-a-sighting/) and recording them as part of our research efforts.

Education is a pillar of conservation. Our most important audience is the young who will shape future policy and attitudes . Already during the first we have been able to reach out a few times to children’s groups to educate them about cetaceans. They were all so enthusiastic and knowledgeable it was incredibly heartening to see children so informed. Despite our land surveying not always being entirely fruitful. The children always remained positive and enjoyed themselves. Which was great to see. It was also entertaining to witness their shock and despair on learning that we often survey for three hours or more. A no doubt Herculean task from the prospective of a young child.

Social media for the centre is getting a make over under our watch. We want to post more and engage more with the public on our various platforms. Instagram and Facebook primarily. Hopefully we shall also be making some videos for the centres  YouTube account about our adventures on the island. So look out for that! (https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCOZPUDX0kpicxsUf2EPZOvA). Hopefully we will be getting closer to the whales and dolphins. So will take lots of photos and videos to share with you guys across our platforms.

To be continued……………..

Gem

 

 

Dolphineers 2019: An introduction!

Hi, my name is Ambrosine (but call me Amber!) and I am half French half English (from Brighton). I recently graduated with a MSc in Ecological Zoology at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, and have already worked with research projects in different countries before. I have always been passionate about marine wildlife and conservation, which is why I’m excited to volunteer with the MWDW and work with these amazing animals!

Hi, I’m Anna! One of the new Summer Interns of 2019. I recently graduated from Sweden and now have a MSc in Evolutionary Biology and a BSc in Animal Biology. Ive taken part in a few research projects around the globe, and am thrilled to be here for the Summer! I am passionate about wildlife and conservation and look forward to exploring the Isle of Man.

 

Hi, My Name is Gemma I am starting a masters in Zoo conservation biology next year. I have always had a love for animals and nature. I have worked in animal rehabilitation and rescue. I am an education officer for the blue cross. I taught English as a foreign language across Asia. I have previously studied History and contemporary Chinese studies at undergrad and East Asian economics at post grad. I’m excited to experience these amazing animals and Manx life.

Hi I’m Olivia, this is my first time visiting the Isle of Man. I am looking forward to gaining some invaluable experience in what it takes to conserve marine mammal species. I have very recently completed my bachelors at the University of Exeter studying conservation biology and ecology so have a fresh idea of the biology and ecology of cetacean species. I can’t wait to see what the summer holds.

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!

MWDW

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

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.

Buffet and Binoculars

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!

Tynwald Day 02

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.

Porpoise Remains.jpg

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!