New aerial survey techniques for monitoring marine birds are proving to be valuable tools in monitoring other marine wildlife
It’s amazing what you can find on GoogleMaps. With an impending visit to Norway I thought I’d have a look for potentially suitable Beluga areas in the north of the country. Belugas love shallow bays so using the satellite imagery to identify suitable sites is a great starting point before actually getting out in the field and finding the real thing. Ninety seconds of searching later and this is what appeared on the screen…
It looks very much like a pod of Beluga at the mouth of a shallow sandy estuary! Belugas typically form tight pods and spend much of their time close to the surface. I’ll tell you in a couple of weeks whether they were still there!
But there’s a more mileage in these aerial images than you may think. If you follow anything marine-based or environmental on twitter you may have seen some superb aerial images of marine wildlife from our UK waters recently. These images were shot by the HiDef (http://www.hidefsurveying.co.uk) team as part of a European Shag survey of waters around the Isles of Scilly for Natural England. You can follow them @HiDefSurvey
Risso’s Dolphin: 16km WNW of Bryher, Isles of Scilly 12/06/2014. 3m long; grey and white mottled body; prominent ‘melon’ and indistinct beak; tall falcate dorsal fin
Harbour Porpoise: Dogger Bank June 2012. Mother (1.8m) and calf – small size, indistinct beak, fairly uniform colouration, dark pectoral fins
Aerial surveying of marine wildlife has become increasingly common and provides a superb way of documenting and monitoring a range of marine species. All surveys follow pre-determined transect routes using a small aircraft flying at close to 2000 feet carrying four super high definition cameras. These cameras take digital video footage at several frames per second providing a snap shot of seabirds and other marine wildlife on or close to the surface of the sea.
Northern Right Whale: mother and calf east of Virginia, USA. Mother (identified from images as ‘Blackheart’) 14.0m, calf 6.5m, identified by barnacles on lips and narrow upper jaw
Whilst you may expect that monitoring seabirds and marine mammals (as well as turtles & sharks) would be impossible using aircraft so high above the sea, it is surprising how frequently they are encountered when analysing the images, and how easy they are to identify.
Fin Whale: east of Virginia, USA 15/02/2013. 16.5m Long slim body, small dorsal fin far back on body, white lip on right side.
Common Dolphin (10): Outer Bristol Channel on 25/05/2009. Average 2.2m long, typical ‘hourglass’ pattern on side, pale pectoral fins, large splash from recent breaching
These recent surveys have identified three species of cetaceans around the SW English coast as well as Blue Shark, Sunfish and Leatherback Turtles, even though they are not the target of the surveys, showing how valuable this new technique is and how important our coastal waters are for marine wildlife. We can no doubt look forward to more fascinating marine revelations and a better understanding of the distribution and abundance of many species.
Leatherback Turtle: 20km west of Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 2m long (= adult) with prominent ridges down back
Blue Shark: 16km south of Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 1.8m (=immature) slim snout, blue-grey colour, long pectoral fins