Record Year for Stranded Manx Megafauna

Wednesday 1st February 2017

Harbour Porpoise © Louise Sampson

For the last four years, Manx Wildlife Trust, on behalf of DEFA, has been attending dead marine megafauna strandings. Megafauna strandings include whales, dolphins, seals, basking sharks and even turtles that wash up on our beaches after they have died. This is important work that helps us understand our seas and as a volunteer network it’s a great way for you to get involved.

Fast Facts:

  • 42 strandings were reported in 2016– a record year!
  • Seals, dolphins and porpoise are the most commonly found
  • Very unusual - an Otter and Loggerhead turtles were found this year
  • We have over 20 volunteers, with many different vocational backgrounds all helping to make this work possible. Many of our volunteers are concentrated up North, we desperately need volunteers from the South, East and West to help cover those areas

The programme involves going out to investigate a dead individual once it has been reported, usually by a member of the public. The aim is to collect as much information as possible about the individual, such as species, sex, condition, cause of death and other biometrical data. The information is used to build up a baseline of knowledge regards the marine species in our waters. We train all our Stranding Surveyors so it’s amazing what you start to learn about these fantastic creatures.

The data collected is reported back to DEFA and sent to the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), which has been running since 1990. The data provides a picture of what species are found in Manx waters and indicates their seasonality and distribution around our coast, building a baseline of information which can be used to monitor changes in populations.

This past year has been very interesting, producing some unusual results. First a total of 42 strandings were reported to and attended by MWT and its volunteers, a record number since MWT began this work. Many of the reports were of seals and cetaceans (whales and dolphins etc), commonly known to Manx waters, however three loggerhead turtles and even an otter were reported! Neither of these species are common to the Island, so their finding is fascinating. With any scientific study, the more we have discover, the more questions there are – where did they come from? Why so many more strandings this year? It could be due to greater storm events causing more individuals to wash up onto our shores or could be an indication of something more sinister?

A new aspect of this work undertaken recently, has been to collect tissue samples from the dead strandings to test for heavy metals and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which has been made possible thanks to funding from DEFA. The reason we are testing tissue samples are that cetaceans have the ability to store these contaminants in their blubber and ‘lock’ it away. However, in times of hardship when food is limited, cetaceans can use their fat reserves, which can expose the individual to those harmful compounds.

It may not be the most glamorous of jobs for the Marine Officer, Lara Howe, but it is still an important aspect of her role. “Even though it’s usually wet and windy it’s a great excuse to get out of the office and walk along a beautiful beach. Generally, you smell the stranded individual before you see it! Often the individual has been dead for a long time making identification difficult, but it is vital work that feeds not only into our records but also into a national database to build up a better understanding of what’s happening with our cetaceans in UK waters.”

MWT would like to thank the many volunteers who go out in all weather conditions to help collect this important data, without them the Marine Officer wouldn’t get much else done. If you think it is something you might like to be involved in, MWT is running another training course on Monday, 13th March at 7pm at the Wildlife Trust Office in Peel. We particularly need people living in the East, West and South of the Island to help with coverage in those areas. Please book a place with the Marine Officer, Lara Howe, at lara@manxwt.org.uk but be warned it is not for the faint hearted!

In addition, should you come across a dead marine mammal or turtle please do report them to the Marine Officer on (01624) 844432 or (07624) 450879.
 

Tagged with: Cetaceans, Event, Living Seas, Marine, Seals, Strandings, Volunteer