Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Whale of a Time

Imagine standing next to a life sized Orca. For some of us we have been lucky enough to be on a boat, big or small, when one of these magnificent marine mammals surfaces nearby. The moment is inspirational, breath taking and one that many do not forget. Even then you only see a small part of the animal. Perhaps the head, back and enormous dorsal fin towering above the waves. Occasionally you might be really lucky to see one leap clear, throwing themselves out of the water and crashing back down with an almighty splash. But not everyone is so lucky, whether they cannot afford to go, or are not near any prime Orca habitat. So again imagine standing next to a life sized Orca. It is big, reaching almost 10 m in length and its tall, to the tip of its dorsal fin it towers over you, your mum, even your really tall dad! It’s bold, black and white with huge paddle like flippers. It is a view very few would ever see in a wild animal, and who wants to see the shadow of a wild Orca that is those subject to a life in captivity. 

A wild and free Orca

There were so many wonderful things at WhaleFest 2014, things that really inspired kids, parents, students and anyone else who ventured to the world’s biggest festival of whales and dolphins. And it wasn’t just Steve Backshall (although he was pretty inspirational!). For our little Morgan what really stuck in her mind was things like the life sized humpback whale, based on a real, known whale off America called Niall and the release of a life sized Orca into the sea off Brighton. Of course (and unfortunately) it was not a real Orca, but it looked pretty realistic. Such items have a massive impact. So imagine being able to have a life sized Orca to use year after year at WhaleFest and to take on the road to events around the country? Imagine being able to inspire hundreds, thousands of people by bringing them into close contact with a life sized whale, inspiring them to care and to protect these incredible creatures.

Morgan at WhaleFest 2014, with the life sized inflatable Orca

WhaleFest has fantastic support from those people who currently own such incredible replicas. But to be able to really make this work the team needs their own replica. Their own inflatable life sized Orca. And to do that they need help. Overall the funds needed may seem overwhelming, a large sum of money. But break it down into small chunks and ask your friends, your friends friend, your mum, your dad, your aunty, your work colleagues, everyone and anyone to make one small donation and very soon that large sum is reachable. And that is the idea behind crowd funding. 

And so WhaleFest has launched a crowdfunding appeal backed by Monty Halls, Gok Wan and supported by The Body Shop Foundation, to raise enough money to build a life sized replica Orca. But more than that it is supported by general people who have pledged their support for this inspirational idea. Our little Morgan has pledged her support, and would ask will you too?

There are only 21 days left and still 50% of the funds to go. Will you pledge, share and support the WhaleFest Team? Will you help bring to life an idea that will inspire generations to love and protect whales?


Friday, 5 December 2014

Surveying Cetaceans in Portugal

From enjoying Humpback Whales in Hawaii and Panama, Morgan was back across the Atlantic and participating in a survey for cetaceans and turtles with WCA partner AIMM – Marine Environment Research Association in Portugal. AIMM conducts research in partnership with universities, research centres and other Non-Governmental Organisations, to increase the knowledge of marine ecosystems in Portugal. 

On board the Portuguese Navy vessel the Creoula

Andre Cid from the organisation and Morgan took part in scientific survey off the coast of Portugal to establish what biodiversity exists off the coast and where. While the survey looked a range of marine life, Morgan and Andre Cid were there to survey for cetaceans and turtles.   

Working with the scientists on board

On board the beautiful Creoula, originally a cod fishing boat used in the North Atlantic and now a training ship of the Portuguese Navy the team recorded all the whales, dolphins, porpoises and turtles they saw. This data will go towards identifying which species occur in the area, estimating the spatial distribution and relative abundance (i.e. where they occur and how many are there), assessing habitat use and population structures and towards comparing photo-identification pictures (photos of the dorsal fin that allow individual animals to be recognised) with existing catalogues.  

Looking out for whales and dolphins!

In addition to conducting visual surveys the team also monitored for whales and dolphins acoustically using a hydrophone, which is basically an underwater microphone that will pick up the clicks, whistles and any other vocalisations that the whales and dolphins may be making. By plugging the hydrophone into a computer these vocalisations can be recorded and also visualised on screen. 

Click to discover more about the work of AIMM!

The acoustic monitoring system

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Matylda and Morgan

There once was a little girl called Matylda who went on a wonderful adventure to Panama with her mum, dad, little sister Edith, and a very special little Orca called Morgan. Nestled in central America with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the vast Pacific Ocean on the other, Panama is home to wild tropical jungle, golden sandy beaches and blue turquoise water filled with coral reefs, colourful fishes and a multitude of marine creatures including whales and dolphins. Morgan was honoured to join this family on their adventure, and while she cannot speak ‘human’ Matylda has spoken for Morgan by writing down her adventures with this little whale in this special place.

Morgan's Holiday Book By Matylda

Matylda, her family and Morgan headed to Contadora Island, set off the southern, Pacific coast of Panama and here they headed out in search of humpback whales and dolphins. In Matylda’s words "Morgan has had a brilliant time with us. Morgan came on a boat trip with us and another family. We saw Humpback Whales. Morgan went on a catamaran and we saw Spotted Dolphins but Edith was asleep. We were on a net (the cat had a net to sit on the bow). We had a brilliant time!"

Matylda's drawing of her family and Morgan onboard a catamaran whale watching!

Did you know that Panama is the only place in the whole world where Humpback Whales from both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere come to breed!? The dolphins that Morgan and Matylda saw were Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, the species most commonly encountered in the waters off Panama. They are curious and very interactive, often swimming for hours and playing around the boats.

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (not from Panama but the same species!)

Morgan and Matylda went whale watching with World Cetacean Alliance Partner, Whale Watching Panama. Click here to find out more about their trips and the magical place of Panama! 

Finally it is just left to us to say 'Thank You' to Matylda for taking our Morgan on this adventure, for speaking for her and telling us all about your adventure together.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Hawaii

Leaving New London and Wyland’s Wall, our little Morgan headed to the 50th and most recent state to join the United States of America: Hawaii! Surrounded by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the state encompasses the volcanic Hawaiian Archipelago, hundreds of islands spread over 1500 miles. Morgan travelled to the third largest of the islands, Oahu, with WCA partner Patti Sullivan from CSI. 

Together they circled the island, exploring its volcanic landscape, the lush green slopes that meet golden beaches and turquoise blue waters. From Honolulu they headed to the southern shore where they gazed upon Diamond Head crater, an inactive volcano and the Hawaiian ‘money shot’. From there they headed to the fabled north shore where surfers ride huge glassy winter waves. 

Enjoying the stunning scenery of Oahu

And the best bit for Morgan? Finding the information boards about The Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and even seeing the wispy blows of Humpback Whales just offshore! These whales have just returned to the warm tropical waters around the islands from Alaska where they have spent the northern summer gorging on the abundance of food found in those cool waters. In Hawaii they will mate, give birth, and not feed until they have returned north next spring. 

Learning about the sanctuary, and watching whales!

The sanctuary is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Hawaii. Through research, education, outreach, regulations and guidelines the sanctuary aims to protect the Humpback Whales, their habitat and the cultural heritage of the islands. 

As they read Morgan and Patti leaned about the issues that whales face even within the comparative safety of the sanctuary, from water quality to marine debris to acoustic disturbance. For Morgan the one that caught her attention the most was entanglement. In many cases Humpback Whales will drag nets, lines, pots and gear all the way from Alaska! It is an incredible, arduous journey at the best of times, let alone dragging a load of fishing gear all that way. It was only in February this year that a whale was rescued from fishing gear in the waters around Hawaii. That was possible through the Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network, a community based network formed in 2002 to free Humpback Whales and other marine animals from entanglement. It is wonderful to know there are dedicated people willing to protect Humpback Whales and their habitat, and work to free them where possible when they become entangled. 

Read more about the work of the sanctuary and the Disentanglement Network at http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/welcome.html. and find more photos of Morgan's adventure to Hawaii at Morgan's Facebook page 

For Morgan there was one last chance to enjoy the lemon yellow sunset that is so hard to find anywhere else, before heading off on her next adventure...


Sunday, 9 November 2014

From London to New London

From London, England and standing in front of New Zealand House petitioning for the smallest and one of the rarest dolphins in the world, Morgan was back in the USA. This time she was exploring the history of New London, Connecticut. During the height of the whaling era in the early 19th Century, New London was one of the busiest whaling ports. Oil from whales was exploited but essential to much of the industrial development of the area, with the wealth invested in railroads and hospitals. In the 21st century there is now a recognition for the need to save whales and preserve our ocean environment in a sustainable way. While there are still some countries that hunt whales, thankfully in many countries it is now simply a part of their history. 

Morgan and the history of whaling in New London

A prominent landmark in New London is Wyland’s Whale Wall. Wyland, an American artist best known for his Whaling Walls; large murals painted on buildings across America, featuring life-sized whales.  In New London there was only really one species that could be painted, the whale most hunted by Connecticut whalers in the 1800s, the Sperm Whale. It was Dr Robbins Barstow, one of the founders of WCA partner Cetacean Society International (CSI) and who dedicated his life to saving whales, leading the charge in the effort to stop the slaughter of whales, who invited Wyland to paint the wall in New London. In July 1993 and within one week Wyland had created his Sperm Whale masterpiece. 

Morgan at Wyland's Whale Wall in New London

Over the years the painting began to deteriorate and in 2006 there was even talk of painting over the wall. It was the residents of the city who united with CSI to protect and restore the wall, so that it remains as an icon of awareness and inspiration to these incredible underwater creatures. For Morgan is was a chance to wonder through the history of this place with current members of CSI Patricia Sullivan and Paul Di Gangi. 

Read more about Dr Barstow in CSI’s Whales Alive newsletter written by one of our Morgan’s best friends, Patricia Sullivan. Find out more about the work of CSI at their website

Check out Follow Free Morgan's Facebook page for more photos of her adventure around New London, and while you are there why not Like and Follow us!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A Vigil for Maui's and Hector's Dolphins

30th October 2014 and Dr Barbara Maas and Dr Liz Slooten, Champions of the smallest and one of the most threatened sub-species of dolphin, the Maui’s Dolphin, came to New Zealand House in London to hand over a petition of over 156,000 signatures to the New Zealand High Commission. From an estimated 1800 40 years ago, today there are only 50 Maui’s Dolphins left and they are only found around the North Island of New Zealand. While there are more Hector’s Dolphins (the other sub-species which are only found around the South Island of New Zealand) they too are in need of urgent protection. Both are at severe risk of entanglement in set-net fishing gear. The Maui’s Dolphin in particular is on the edge of extinction. 

Morgan, and mini Maui's and the Petition

What do they need? Full and complete protection from harmful fishing methods across their range. The world’s leading independent scientists, including those from the International Whaling Commission, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Society for Marine Mammalogy, and World Cetacean Alliance partners including Dr Maas herself, all agree. So do 156,523 members of the public. People who do not want to see this small, charismatic, endemic and unique dolphin disappear; People who want future generations to be able to see these dolphins, wild and free. 

Our little Morgan feels the same. With WCA partners Rachael Barber and Isabelle Sikora, Morgan joined a small but dedicated group of Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphins advocates to watch as Dr Maas and Dr Slooten handed over the results of this petition. 

Then with the red buses, taxis and general London traffic rumbling behind us, we handed out leaflets and cheered every honk for Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphin. 

Find out more about Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin and the campaign to protect them at www.hectorsdolphin.com or the Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin SOS Facebook page www.facebook.com/groups/hectorsandmauissos. Why not follow them on Twitter @HectorsMauisSOS, and let’s make as much noise for these the Hobbits of the Sea. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Ship of Discovery

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Okeanos Explorer, ‘America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration’ is the only federally funded US ship dedicated to explore our ocean. Why? Because the ocean is 95% unexplored, unseen and unknown, and yet humans rely heavily on its natural resources. To understand, manage and protect the ocean and its resources NOAA believes it is important to explore, understand, discover, inform and educate. Our little Morgan thinks so too. This ship of discovery is packed with a huge variety of sensors and systems, from multi-beam sonar for high resolution mapping of the seafloor down to 6,000 m to plankton sampling kit and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) that can collect samples. This telepresence-enabled ship not only sends live images and data to scientists onshore, but also streams seafloor images and interviews from sea into classrooms, newsrooms and living rooms. 

This week our little Morgan joined Patricia Sullivan and Paul DiGangi from WCA partner Cetacean Society International, at a workshop at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography provided by NOAA on this wonderful exploration vessel. 

Morgan at the University of Rhode Island

Over the course of the workshop Morgan learned about Exploration vs. Research, the ships telespresence, multi beam mapping, water column investigations, underwater robots, wet maps, Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) sensors and image analysis. Morgan participated in experiences such as water quality testing, creating a robot with hydraulics, understanding fractals (a never-ending pattern; infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales) and the notion of the increase in complexity the deeper we study the ocean. 

Testing water quality

The visit culminated in a tour of the command centre for Okeanos where Morgan saw archived video footage of live exploration of the sea floor from around the globe! 

Workshop over there was time to enjoy a little of the beach, soaking up the New England autumn sunshine before heading on to Connecticut with Patti, ready for her next adventure....

Loving the New England coastline

In the meanwhile why not check out NOAA's website for the Okeanos Explorer and Cetacean Society International. Why not check out more photos from Morgan's adventure on her Facebook page.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Arctic Explorer

It seems like only yesterday Morgan was enjoying the British summer sunshine at a BBQ with WhaleFest friends. But it has been almost a month! In the meanwhile Morgan has been on an adventure of a lifetime up into the high Canadian Arctic with one of the stalwarts of WhaleFest Judith Scott and the company One Ocean. An experienced naturalist, whale watch guide and researcher, not to mention super photographer, Judith has worked in Massachusetts, Canada, Norway, Iceland and Australia. Now she and Morgan headed north into the Arctic Circle on an ice strengthened expedition ship, the Akademik Ioffe, to Baffin Island, part of the state on Nunavut, in search of some of Morgan’s most northerly cousins! This year the ice in the Northwest Passage was particularly thick, the most in some areas for 23 years. For this reason Morgan and her expedition mates flew into Iqaluit in the south of Baffin Island instead of Resolute Bay which was full of ice.

Morgan amongst the ice of the Arctic

With the ice firmly in charge, Morgan explored the freezing waters around the island and came across some of the amazing creatures that call this place home including Walrus and Polar Bear. In Isabela Bay she saw Bowhead Whale, the longest living species of whale. It is thought that these incredible animals can live for over 200 years! It is amazing to think that some of these individuals Morgan saw may have been alive when Charles Darwin was writing his book ‘The Origin of Species’!

Around the north east tip of Baffin Island Morgan and her compatriots had the most amazing encounter with 150 Narwhal. These whales are unique in that the males have a long tooth that looks like a tusk, erupting out of their lower jaw which can reach 3 m in length! What a wonderful experience for Morgan and her friends with one of the strangest and most wonderful creatures of the marine world.

Young male Narwhal

Amongst the water and ice, in this unforgiving, harsh but wildly beautiful environment Morgan learned that the marine creatures that live here, seemingly so far from human habitation, still face threats from man’s activity. Pollution, drilling for oil and gas, climate change, hunting and whaling to name but a few.

For Morgan though her trip to the Arctic was inspiring, and by telling her friends about it she hopes that it will inspire more people to care and protect this wonderful, fragile and beautiful environment and her very special cousins that live there…

With the Canadian flag

Sunday, 10 August 2014

WhaleFest Volunteer BBQ

Saturday 9th August and our little Morgan was back in the UK, enjoying the sunny British summer… while it lasted! In a warm patch of south east England, Morgan had joined up with some of the volunteers who helped make WhaleFest 2014, where Follow Free Morgan was launched, a huge success. It was a chance to catch up with old friends, to celebrate the success of WhaleFest 2014 and to start planning WhaleFest 2015. Of course the team had not been sat on its heels for the last five months and plans were already afoot. This was a chance for the volunteers to hear what is happening and the time of get involved

Our little Morgan and just two of the wonderful WhaleFest Volunteers

First there was time to look back on what a massive success WhaleFest 2014 was, and what better way than the wonderful short video created about the event. You can take a look at that very video by clicking the link below


Then of course what better way to enjoy the British summer than we a wonderful BBQ! Over a beer, burger or a soft drink there was not better way for the team to catch up and chat, with the talk inevitably leading to the adventures that our friends have been on. There was talk of wild Orca in Canada and Iceland and of adventures in Arizona to name but a few. Our little Morgan was in her element, with tales to tell of Iceland and Brussels, Pembrokeshire and the Azores.


A Great British BBQ
Following a well-earned pit stop it was back to the meeting, and now the team was onto discussing WhaleFest 2015. With a new venue, the Brighton Centre, WhaleFest 2015 is looking to be bigger and better than ever! Once again the event will be raising funds for the World Cetacean Alliance, with favourites such as the Submarine Dome experience, Virtual Whale Watch, campaign and science talks all set to make a return as well as few new surprises in store! 

In the lead up the team looks to expand and develop WhaleFest and the WCA’s social media presence, with the aim of telling the world what WhaleFest is all about. Passionate people coming together to inspire the world to protect whales and dolphins, and their ocean habitat. So look out for #Whalefies and share yours at WhaleFest and World Cetacean Alliance on Facebook and Twitter! 

So here is our little Morgan’s first attempt at a #Whalefie with guest appearance of Rachael, complete in Orca suit and Barley!

#Whalefie with Morgan, Rachael and Barley

If you want to get involved and help run the worlds biggest festival of whales and dolphins then contact grace@planetwhale.com. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Europe: Close Dolphinaira Demo

Having spent some time watching wild whales and dolphins in Iceland, our little Morgan headed to Brussels to meet up with World Cetacean Alliance partner The Dolphin’s Voice and to attend the ‘Europe: Close Dolphinaria’ demonstration in Brussels. Held on 28th June 2014 the event was attended by around 400 people from France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Brazil, Germany, UK, Ireland, Greece, Czech Republic to name a few. All coming together to unite for a world free of captive whales and dolphins, and our little Morgan was there. The event was also attended by Ric O’Barry who set up The Dolphin Project and who has been actively educating the public and raising awareness about the captivity issue, and was featured in the award winning film The Cove which exposed the yearly dolphin drive in Taji, Japan.



Currently there are 34 dolphinairums in 15 European Union counties with more than 300 small cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) on display, from Belugas to Orca like Morgan. Everyone at the event, including our little Morgan hoped it would help urge the European Union to ban the import of whales and dolphins and ultimately end captivity.

This years event included lots of motivational speeches, but our little Morgan particularly liked the formation of the words FREE by the crowd and the team from Bite Back.

© Valeria Machado

Annelies Mullens, one of the events organisers, said to Morgan ‘These photos say it all: alone we are small, but together we will make a difference –FREE dolphins! Every single person who came to the demo today helped make this happen. We made a huge and powerful statement to the dolphinaria industry. Working together in a team with people from so many countries will help to end dolphin captivity. Thank you!"

Our little Morgan certainly felt proud to be amongst people who are as passionate as she is about ending captivity of whales and dolphins, and hopes to attend the event next year… and if enough people do you never know we may be able to make the words FREEDOM!

© Sasha Abdolmajid

A huge thank you to Richard O’Barry, Annelies Mullens, Yvon Godefroid, Bite Back and everyone who contributed to the development of this event. A special thank you to The Dolphin’s Voice for taking our little Morgan along!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Iceland - Land of Ice and Fire... and Whales!

Venturing north from the Bay of Biscay our little Morgan heads to the land of ice and fire, and the waters of whales, Iceland. With WCA partner Suzanne Rogers our little Morgan set about exploring this island in the north of the Atlantic. Her tour included a visit to the Blue Lagoon, hot springs and geysirs whose spouts of water remind Morgan of those giant Blue Whales in the Azores. 

An Icelandic geysir

A few overnight stops in wild, rugged, beautiful, mountainous places Morgan and her friends arrive in Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland. With many whale watching companies operating here, Morgan was careful to chose a responsible, ethical company and went with North Sailing. There are no laws regulating whale watching here, and guidelines are voluntary. In an increasingly competitive industry not all whale watching companies operate responsibly with some actively chasing whales and getting too close. Sadly our little Morgan even saw some of this behaviour while out on her trip, while her boat kept a distance another boat raced in too close. Still Morgan, onboard a Schooner, was keen to get out there and try to see some whales responsibly. The signs were good, the crew had heard reports the those mighty Blue Whales were in the area and heading out to that bay Morgan and her friends were not disappointed with a group of five or six whales letting them hang out with them! With a lingering trace of snow and ice on mountains behind it was a magic moment for Morgan to meet these giants again. Heading back to shore and they saw a Minke Whale fully breach five times!

Iceland's magical scenery

Subsequent trips out from Husavik encountered more Minke Whales, a Humpback Whale and even many Harbour Porpoise – usually so difficult to see because they are small, fast and don’t show much of their body above water but the sea conditions allowed great viewing of these the smallest species of cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the North Atlantic.

For our little Morgan seeing Minke Whales brings mixed feelings as they are still hunted in Iceland. Indeed in Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital city) the whaling ships share a harbour with the whale watching boats and just a few days previously a German tourist had made international news by chaining himself to a whaling ship in protest against Iceland’s whaling activity. It is difficult not to be concerned that the whales Morgan and her friends saw might not survive the whaling season and to wonder whether getting used to whale watching boats puts them in more danger from the whaling ships. Overall it is considered best to support the whale watching industry to prove that whales are worth more alive than dead. Astoundingly it is the tourists that are driving the demand for whale meat – most of the whale meat consumed in Iceland is by tourists, sometimes the very same people who go whale watching! A campaign by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) called Meet Us Don’t Eat Us aims to raise awareness about the issues regarding eating whales and also to encourage tourists to support whale friendly restaurants. The campaign is very visible not just in Reykjavik but also in Husavik.

Once in Reykjavik our little Morgan couldn’t resist the chance to go whale watching again, and heading out with Elding – a tour company with a firm focus on education and concern for the animals. They also have a whale centre ingeniously created in a converted ship through which tourists must pass to reach the whale watching vessel. It contains cetacean skeletons and information about the animals and their plight. On the trip Morgan once again saw Minke Whales and enjoyed the very informative commentary, which also highlighted environmental issues and the health of the oceans as well as that of individual animals.

Elding's Science Officers

For Morgan one of the best parts of whale watching (apart from seeing whales!) is the other passengers – exchanging tales of previous whale watching trips with fellow whale enthusiasts and being there when some people see a whale in the wild for the very first time. On one trip our little Morgan met the Wildlife Society of Manchester University, a truly passionate group of students and alumni – with such future cetacean advocates the future certainly looks bright.

After ten days amazing days it was time for our little Morgan to plan her next adventure but a little part of her is still happily gazing out to sea looking for whales off the beautiful coast of Iceland.


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Monday, 9 June 2014

Morgan the MMO

Sound. It travels faster and further through water than air and in an environment where light does not penetrate very deep, its is one of the most important senses for marine animals including whales, dolphins and porpoises. Cetaceans as they are also known use sound for communicating, finding food and navigating their way around the ocean. The great baleen whales such as those our little Morgan encountered in the Azores, use low frequency sound to communicate over thousands of kilometres, toothed whales and dolphins like Orca use sound to echolocate in order to find their food and their way. Clicks and whistles are also used to communicate, and for some species distinguish between individuals in other words they have names! Scientists have even shown that different populations of Orca for example have specific vocalisations and even that different groups within the same population have different dialects.

The amazing properties of sound in water have made it very useful to humans as well. Using sound we can identify objects at huge distances, we can work out what type of rock exists below the seabed, and we can find valuable deposits of oil and gas used to fuel our modern day lives.

The issue is that as humans we are increasing the amount of sound in the ocean, and this is having some terrible impacts on whales and dolphins. Strandings, where whales and dolphins beach themselves and injuries have been linked with active sonar. Hearing sensitivity can be affected, either temporarily or permanently. Calls can be masked so that individuals cannot hear them or they have to change the way they make their own calls in order to be heard – a bit like us raising our voices in a very noisy room. Sound can affect behaviour too, causing disturbance or avoidance of areas. The level of impact depends on the intensity and frequency of the sound, and also on the individual.

For the exploration of oil and gas, around the worldwide a number of countries have introduced legislation and guidance in order to try and reduce the impact of this sound on whales and dolphins. While arguments may continue about whether oil and gas exploration should continue, especially in certain sensitive areas, ultimately as long as people are going to search for such deposits something needs to be done to protect whales and dolphins as much as possible. Methods include delaying the start of a sound if whales or dolphins are close by, increasing the level of noise gradually over a period of time in order to warn animals in close vicinity, shutting down noise sources when animals come within a certain distance. All of which involve having experienced marine mammal observers, to spot whales and dolphins and to advise people about guidelines. And inevitably training is needed.

Morgan at the Pro-MMO lectures

This week our little Morgan joined participants on a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) course run by Gardline Environmental Ltd., learning the guidelines set out for UK waters by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

With a day of lecturers in a class room, our little Morgan learnt all about the properties of sound, the reasons human made sounds for oil and gas exploration can be so bad for whales and dolphins, and what these guidelines advise in order to reduce the impacts. Next it was off on a ferry in order to put into practice what they had learnt and to get some experience spotting and identifying whales and dolphins. What better place than the Bay of Biscay. With regular ferry’s crossing a range of habitat from shallow shelf waters, steep slopes, stretches of deep water and underwater canyons. The area covers habitat perfect for a range of dolphins and whales, and is one of the best places in Europe to see some of the most elusive whales, the beaked whales.

Out on deck scanning for marine mammals

With the weather a mixed bag and sea conditions ranging from choppy to completely flat calm, our little Morgan and the other candidates spent time on the ferry’s deck taking part in role plays and putting into practice the mitigation methods learnt in the class room. With wave after wave of common dolphin they even got to practice delaying operations! As the ferry crossed over the underwater canyons in the southern part of the Bay, a treat for Morgan and the other participants were two of those elusive beaked whales, this time Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, surfacing right next to the ferry!

Arriving in sunny Santander there was time to reflect on a wonderful days whale watching and to discuss all that they had practiced, before getting back onto the ferry for the return leg…. And of course the MMO exam!

In sunny Santander with the Pro-MMO candidates

With expert guidance and tuition all 10 candidates, and our little Morgan passed to become JNCC trained MMOs, ready to head off on survey vessels around the UK and beyond, in order to protect whales and dolphins from this particular form of underwater sound.

Find out more about the JNCC guidelines for seismic surveys, piling (installing rigs and wind turbines) and explosives, and find out more about Marine Mammal Observers here.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Ocean Giants in the Azores

The Azores, a group of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by deep water and smack bang in the pathway of migration routes of some of the largest creatures on our planet. The people of the Azores have a strong affinity with the sea, and whales in particular, having hunted particularly sperm whales right up until the early 1980s. But this was not mass scale, explosive harpoon hunting, this was a few men, in small boats, using oar and sail to chase these leviathans and hand-thrown harpoons to capture them. Since then boats have gone out in search of whales, not to capture them but to watch them, and the Azores is now known as one of the best places on Earth to watch whales and dolphins.

A mighty fin whale surfaces near our little Morgan. Image: Joao Quaresma

Over 24 species have been recorded, with many being resident year round including dolphins like common and bottlenose dolphins, but even groups of young and female sperm whales. Between April and June however sees the seasonal migration through these waters of true ocean giants, humpback, fin, sei and the mighty blue whale. Each of which has suffered dramatic declines due to whaling.

Reports from whale watch operators in the Azores, including many partners of the WCA, is that this is year is one of the most abundant in terms of baleen whales (whales like blue, sei, fin and humpback that have no teeth but bristly plates called baleen that hang from the top jaw and filter food from the water). Out little Morgan was keen to find out more and see these incredible animals up close and personal.

So joining Helen Bailey, Ruth and Mike Jones our little Morgan set out on an adventure with Amanda Stafford’s Whale and Dolphin Connection, and went whale watching from the island of Pico with Espaco Talassa, one of the original whale watching companies that not only takes passengers out to see these creatures but collects data on sightings and individuals through photo identification techniques.

Morgan, Helen and Rachel

Amanda, Rachel and our little Morgan

Zooming across the ocean on fast RIB against a background of splendid mountains, day after day Morgan’s group came across whale after whale and dolphin after dolphin. The water swirled a greenish blue colour, thick with microscopic plants called phytoplankton and feeding on these are tiny animals called zooplankton. Together these form the basis of the entire ocean food chain, feeding fish, squids, dolphins and whales.

Everyday there were blue whales, surfacing with powerful blows, lifting their giant tail flukes high into the air. There were mixed groups of fin and blue whales, and dolphins surfing the waves the whales created. Curious fin whales hanging around the boat, meandering around it and gliding under and alongside, so close that Morgan and everyone got caught by their smelly, wet breath. Then there were whales that powered through the water, almost clearing the surface, doing a kind of mini-breach and surfing over the top of each other. Next there were humpback whales, hanging out with sperm whales and their calves, hanging out with fin whales, curiously approaching the slowly moving boat, diving underneath boat and waves, lifting their flukes with a curtain of water dripping along the trailing edge. Amongst all this giant whale action there were dolphins, from common to bottlenose, striped to Risso’s.

A true ocean giant - the blue whale

What an incredible experience for our little Morgan and everyone onboard, watching and learning about these incredible animals, up close and personal, and importantly in the wild.   

Thanks to Whale and Dolphin Connection for taking little Morgan on a fantastic adventure in the Azores.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Empty the Tanks 2014

Saturday 24th May 2014, marked the 2nd Empty the Tanks Worldwide event where people in many locations around the world gathered to raise awareness about and gain support for the campaign to end the captivity of cetaceans.

Our little Morgan took part in the event in Leicester Square, London, along with approximately 100 other protestors armed with banners, posters and leaflets. Here they roamed the Leicester Square area trying to engage the public on this issue and pledge to never visit whales and dolphins in captivity; queues meant ‘captive’ people and were a good place to start. Our little Morgan met many people this day, including one young girl who had asked her mum if she could come to the event as part of her special birthday weekend treat in London – lovely to see such passion and commitment in someone so young but at the same time so sad that children are worrying about an industry that should not exist.

Totally inspired by this young lady!

Most people Morgan and her friends came across nodded in agreement when they said that whales and dolphins do not belong in captivity, which was encouraging. Quite a few people agreed that the tanks should be empty but expressed opinions that those animals currently in marine parks would have to stay there as they wouldn’t survive in the wild, highlighting that there is significant misunderstanding about the options for these animals. Some people believe that the alternative to captivity is to release the animals out into the wild and they are rightly concerned that if that were to happen the animals might be unable to fend for themselves and would die. This shows that they are unaware of the rehabilitation plans that would be involved in the retirement of these animals. They would not be subjected to a sudden change from captivity to release, rather the plan for each animal would be carefully tailored for that individual – some might be able to be fully released after a period of rehabilitation and would rejoin their families whereas others might never be able to be fully released and would require some human input for the rest of their lives.

Our little Morgan had quite a day, getting her photo taken with all kinds of people at the protest, and one four legged black and white friend!

Morgan and her little furry friend!

Emptythe Tanks is an annual event and growing, reflecting the increased focus on this issue and the growing movement of people taking a stand against keeping cetaceans in captivity. A huge thank your to WCA Partner Suzanne Rogers for taking out little Morgan along to this great event.

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