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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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Back to School

Conservation, it’s not just about collecting data, publishing results, changing policies, providing protection (although these are really important). An absolutely fundamental part of any conservation success is education. Getting the word out about different species, the threats they and their habitat face and what can be done to help. Central to this is teaching and inspiring the next generation, our kids. Getting them passionate about the environment; they are the future decision makers and those decisions we make now will affect them more than anyone. How sad would it be if our children and our children’s children only ever see Maui’s dolphins in picture books? Only ever learn about the amazing blue whale, the biggest animal to ever live on our planet,  from books or more likely some future version of the internet….? How sad if they look back and wonder why we missed such an opportunity to end the policy of keeping such amazing, sentient beings as whales and dolphins in cramped bathtubs….How devastating that if as adults they say ‘I wish I’d known….?

Many of the WCA partners, charities, businesses and individuals alike are dedicated to educating and inspiring people about whales and dolphins. In essence that is what Follow Free Morgan is all about. Only last week our little Morgan was out on a boat collecting data and learning all about the amazing marine wildlife off the Cornish coast.

Educating passengers

WhaleFest is another perfect example of getting people, and especially kids, inspired about whales and dolphins. And it works. Jasmine and Cameron, just two of the thousands of kids that came to WhaleFest in March and were inspired. Returning home, and back to school, the pair couldn’t keep quiet about all they had seen and done, especially about Morgan’s story, bending friends, classmates and teachers ears on a daily basis. When their Granddad Malcolm (a WCA Partner) told them about Follow Free Morgan, they wanted to get involved. So on the return from Cornwall, our little Morgan stopped in on Jasmine and Cameron’s school in Bradford Upon Avon. Here, proud as punch, both kids showed Morgan off to their classes, doing a show and tell, and telling everyone all over again about WhaleFest and the story of Morgan….

Cameron, Jasmine and Morgan
If you have a question for Morgan, or would like to take her on an adventure why not leave a message on her Contact Page?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Discovering Penzance

The catamaran cut through the waters off the west Cornish coast, carrying a group of excited passengers, their expert guides and our little Morgan. With the sails up the impact on the marine environment through which it glides is reduced. The diverse and varied coastline of West Cornwall, with its wide, golden beaches and dramatic cliffs, is matches by its diverse and varied marine life. From minke whales to common, bottlenose and Risso’s dolphin, not to mention those harbour porpoise, to seals, sharks, sunfish, and a multitude of seabirds. Morgan is onboard Marine Discovery Penzance’s Shearwater II as they explore the marine wildlife off the coast of this corner of south west England.

Marine Discovery Penzance is a member of Whale Watch International, a partnership of whale watch operators committed to a sustainable future for whale and dolphin watching. They operate with a code of conduct when watching marine wildlife, collect plastic, work with leading marine charities and collect research during their trips including collecting effort based sightings data and conducting photo-ID on the dolphins, seals and sharks encountered.

Morgan and WCA Malcolm in the
Marine Discovery Penzance office

As our little Morgan learned, collecting data helps us improve our knowledge and understanding of our marine environment and its creatures which in turn helps to conserve and protect them. As a wildlife watching company Marine Discovery Penzance is in a perfect position to collect data as they are out on the water pretty much every day (weather allowing!). In recognition of their all their work and they way they conduct their operations, Marine Discovery Penzance won the prestigious Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watch Operator of the Year in 2013! So Morgan couldn’t have been in better hands to experience what this marine environment had to offer.

Onboard the Shearwater II

On Morgan’s trip the group was treated with views of harbour porpoise, grey seals, loads of seabirds and giant basking sharks! While not a whale or dolphin, basking sharks are an incredible part of the UK’s marine environment. The second largest fish in the world they can reach up to 11 m in length (that’s the length of a double decker bus!). They are seen very often off Cornwall, and the west coast of the UK right up to Scotland, during the summer months. These big fish feed on tiny tiny zooplankton (little animals in the water) which during the summer are often found concentrated in surface waters around headlands. Following its food to the surface waters means these sharks are easily seen. Unlike whales and dolphins which must surface to breathe air, basking sharks take oxygen from the water through their gills. Opening their massive mouths the sharks filter their food from the water also over their gills, they filter about 2000 cubic meters of water an hour – the same volume of water it takes to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool!

Basking shark

Our little Morgan watches with excitement, along with everyone else, as a shark swims by, its large dorsal fin slicing through the water followed by the tip of its tail fin. Her trip today has taught her there is so much varied and wonderful wildlife in our oceans, all of which need our help and protection. 

Find out more about Marine Discovery Penzance here, and find other responsible whale watching companies at the Whale Watch International website. 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

More Pembrokeshire Porpoises

After the excitement of Strumble Head and breaching Risso’s dolphin during the Sea Trust watch Morgan headed off around the Pembrokeshire area with a company called Pembrokeshire Marine Environmental, and found that it is not just volunteers who spend their time searching for the smallest of the UK’s cetaceans. As Morgan learned last time the waters around Strumble Head and Ramsey Island off Pembrokeshire, West Wales provide really good feeding habitat for harbour porpoise. The strong tidal currents and trenches within the channel of Ramsey Sound means there is a lot of food for porpoise to eat. Harbour porpoise eat a wide range fish, cephalopods like squid, and crustaceans like crabs.

The harbour porpoise 

The problem, Morgan has learnt, is that strong tides are also a great source of energy, which people are looking to harness in order to provide electricity to power our modern lives. Renewable energy from wind, sunshine (solar) and tides is an important development in the way we create electricity as they are a lot ‘greener’ and kinder to our environment since they do not release gases like carbon dioxide that are contributing to global warming and changes in the world’s climate.  

Tidal turbines are a comparatively new way of harnessing energy from a renewable resource, taking advance of the high energy and predictability of tides. Tidal turbines are like the wind turbines we see on land or out at sea, windmills that in this case are driven round by the currents.

While renewable energy is a wonderful, clean alternative to coal, oil and gas, there are still some concerns for marine wildlife. Morgan learnt that there are concerns over the impacts of installing such equipment, with the noise produced, as well as concerns over changes to the flow of water and whether that could disrupt fish movements, plus whether birds or fish could be trapped and hurt by devices.

Environmental Impact Assessments are a process which developers need to undertake in order to understand the effect of a development on the natural environment. This includes understanding what animals use and area and how they might be affected by a development and that means getting out there are finding them. Once again the coastal nature of the harbour porpoise and the location of strong tidal areas near to shore, means that many of these surveys can be done from the land.

So Morgan joined Malcolm from Pembrokeshire Marine Environmental and WCA partner, who has been studying the harbour porpoise here for almost 8 years, for another day of searching and recording, this time overlooking Ramsey Sound. Here there are plans to install a prototype tidal turbine, but not before the impacts on porpoises have been assessed. With colleague Nick and his superduper binoculars and with weather conditions so calm it was not long before the small, dark triangular shaped fins of harbour porpoise were being counted all over the Sound. 

Counting harbour porpoise with Nick and Malcolm