News Index

A Triumph for Citizen Science!
A Triumph for Citizen Science!

A Triumph for Citizen Science!

Communities monitor our seas

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s (HWDT) Community Sightings Network plays a vital role in monitoring Scotland’s west coast seas. The network, which has been operating since 2004, encourages members of the public to report their encounters with whales, dolphins and porpoises off the west coast of Scotland.

2016 sightings summary

2016 was the best year to date for the Community Sightings Network. Thirteen species were documented, including the resident bottlenose dolphin and the migratory minke whale. The public reported 1,461 sightings in total, amounting to over 8,100 individual whales, dolphins, porpoises and sharks! That is a whopping 16% of the total community sightings database which currently holds 9,256 sighting records.

Pippa Garrard, the Community Engagement Officer for the Trust, adds, “A huge thank you to everyone who has taken time to submit their sightings to HWDT! It’s fantastic that so many people get involved and contribute to the Community Sightings Network and help progress our knowledge of the whales, dolphins and porpoises found in the Hebrides.”

What we’ve learnt

  • Humpback whale sightings appear to be increasing off the west coast of Scotland - during 2016, the Trust recorded the highest number ever reported.
  • The Inner Hebridean bottlenose dolphins do occasionally socialise with animals from the Moray Firth.
  • Only eight animals remain alive in the unique West Coast Community of killer whales.

Sightings submitted by the public have enabled the Trust to better understand the range, distribution, and social interactions of local species. This would have been impossible without people reporting and submitting images of their encounters to the Trust.

Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, HWDT Science Officer says, “Data collected through the Community Sightings Network and by our boat operator partners are crucial to improve our understanding of local cetacean species – especially coastal species such as bottlenose dolphins and rarer ones including killer and humpback whales.”

In the coming weeks, HWDT are launching the Whale Track app which will make it easier for reporters to submit sightings on their smartphone. It is hoped that this free app will encourage more people to get involved in HWDT’s long-running citizen science programme, generating more reports and helping us to discover more about these fascinating animals.

All sightings reported to HWDT through the Community Sighting Network are validated and forwarded to the Sea Watch Foundation, contributing to the national database held on UK cetaceans.