RV/Song of the Whale North Sea Dogger Bank Survey Journal
This week the team onboard R/V Song of the Whale begin a project to survey the Dogger Bank, North Sea, for cetaceans, particularly harbour porpoises. With core support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and additional funding from several partners including ASCOBANS (the Agreement for Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas), Wagningen IMARES (the Dutch Institute for Marine Resources and Ecology) and WWF UK, and in coordination with German and Belgian groups, the team will use acoustic and visual methods to investigate the presence and distribution of harbour porpoises over the Dogger Bank and adjacent waters (UK, NL, German waters).
The area is a candidate marine protected area (EU Natura 2000 site) and further research is required to establish current trends in porpoise distribution in offshore waters of the North Sea and provide baseline data for mitigating activities that have the potential to disturb their natural behaviour and distribution (including fisheries and offshore renewable developments). As well as being a candidate special area of conservation in UK waters, the Dogger Bank is the potential site for a 9,000km square offshore wind farm.
A further aim of the project, for which funding from ASCOBANS is being given, is to provide an opportunity for individuals from across Europe to participate in a combined acoustic and visual survey. The project demonstrates close cooperation amongst governmental and non-governmental organisations working in partnership to improve knowledge and conservation of harbour porpoises within waters of the ASCOBANS agreement.
The week before the survey, while strategic planning meetings are underway at IFAW HQ, there is a flurry of media interest in the forthcoming project. We are visited by BBC and Anglia regional news teams, as well as being featured on several radio shows during the week, with arrangements made for follow up live links to catch up with the team onboard when the boat is offshore.
During 6th and 7th (Sunday and Monday) the various members of the team arrive in Ipswich, travelling from Scotland, the Netherlands and the Whale fest event in Brighton (UK); supplies are brought onboard and stowed, and the Song of the Whale team is ready for the start of the winter 2011 Dogger Bank survey. There are 11 onboard for the first leg of the project, seven staff members including: Richard (skipper), Jim (relief skipper), Brian (1st Mate / Engineer), Jack (deckhand), Olly (senior scientist), Anna C (research assistant) and Susannah (field assistant), and four visiting researchers from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands: Danielle and Katrin from Seawatch Foundation, and Tessa and Lisette, interns from IMARES.
As SOTW heads north from the mouth of the river Orwell towards the first small survey block, visual and acoustic observations begin, and before long we have had our first harbour porpoise sighting, followed by several grey seals; this feels like a good omen for the survey ahead. During the next 20 or so days, we hope to cover three survey blocks, two small blocks which cover the waters south of the Dogger Bank and the UK portion of the Bank itself, and then one larger block covering the whole Dogger Bank, including the UK, Danish, Dutch and German sections as well as the surrounding waters. We reach the start of our first transect line early on Wednesday morning and pass the Sheringham Shoals windfarm as the sun rises.