This summer, Cornwall Wildlife Trust collaborated with local businesses Chelonia Ltd and Atlantic Diving Newquay, plus volunteer groups, to undertake exciting new research into local dolphin populations using the latest technology. As a result of this work, there is real hope that biologists will be able to more easily monitor, understand and ultimately protect these special animals in Cornwall’s waters.

Between July and September an ‘F-POD’ (the latest underwater passive acoustic recording device) supplied by Chelonia Ltd in Mousehole, was placed in Newquay Bay by boat tour operator and Trust supporter Atlantic Diving in Newquay,  listening out for the echolocation clicks and trains of our local dolphin species.

Simultaneously, groups of dedicated volunteers from the Trust’s Seaquest Southwest Project and the active Newquay Marine Group undertook land-based sightings surveys, recording any marine mammal activity from the land.

Volunteers watch for dolphins at Towan Head, Newquay. Photo by Emily Easman

Volunteers watch for dolphins at Towan Head, Newquay. Photo by Emily Easman

Emily Easman, Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Volunteer who coordinated the work says,

“We collected sightings and acoustic records of our local group of bottlenose dolphins, our largest dolphin species, and harbour porpoises – they’re small, elusive and very difficult to spot, but are actually Cornwall’s commonest cetaceans. We also saw Risso’s dolphins – a species that never eats fish – and numerous groups of common dolphins, one of the fastest dolphins in the world. Just seeing all of these species was not only exciting, but also great news for the challenging project of developing acoustic recognitions of these species’.

The new information will allow for better understanding of these species and will help to inform management of the populations to safeguard the future of these beautiful and engaging animals. Additionally, this data will help to work out whether species can be reliably identified from acoustic recordings alone, something that has never been done before!

A pod of Bottlenose dolphins with a young calf in Newquay Bay. Photo by Newquay Sea Safaris and Fishing

A pod of Bottlenose dolphins with a young calf in Newquay Bay. Photo by Newquay Sea Safaris and Fishing

Nick Tregenza, Trustee of Cornwall Wildlife Trust and marine conservation expert says,

“With acoustic monitoring we can collect detailed information on how dolphins use their habitat by night as well as by day. Combining it with visual observation adds another dimension.  We can then study how much sound the dolphin group makes when it is sleeping, and we now know that they sleep for many hours, often in the day.  Learning how to distinguish the species will add a great deal to that.’

This work was only made possible by the generous donations received via the Trust’s 2015 Bottlenose Dolphin Appeal. The money raised has been put towards a host of projects including the development of the first Southwest Bottlenose Dolphin Forum which took place on Saturday 29th October and a county bottlenose dolphin ID group. For more information on the Trust’s marine conservation work, please see www.cornwallwildlfietrust.org.uk/livingseas.

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