~ Current boundaries of Special Area of Conservation ‘likely to be ineffective' ~
Recent surveys reveal that the southern outer Moray Firth in north-east Scotland provides a critically important habitat for the survival of bottlenose dolphin populations and is not simply a corridor area to the inner Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC) as previously thought.
Earthwatch scientists from the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit (CRRU) in Banff have arrived at this conclusion after four years of studying the behaviour, movements and abundance of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in the area. The study was conducted as part of a longer term monitoring programme.
Earthwatch scientist Dr. Kevin Robinson of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit, said, "It is becoming increasingly clear that the current boundaries of the SAC, designated in 2005, are likely to be ineffective in protecting the population of bottlenose dolphins at more than a local scale."
He continues, "More research needs to be carried out so we can evaluate how this vulnerable population of dolphins is using the waters of eastern Scotland throughout the year. The way the animals live in their environment varies enormously from one region to the next, and this has implications for the way the existing SAC is managed. Other management methods may be needed to protect the population while they are outside of the SAC."
The bottlenose dolphin population that inhabits the Moray Firth is one of only two well studied resident populations of this species in UK waters. Until this research was conducted, there was a lack of data about the outer Moray Firth and its use by marine species. The surveys were carried out within the southern Moray Firth during a four-year period; bottlenose dolphin group sizes ranged between two and 44, and 80 per cent of all groups included calves.*
Earthwatch will continue to fund this research project in 2009 with support from volunteers from the general public. Earthwatch funds and manages 16 ocean research projects, ranging from studying dolphins in Greece, to carrying out coral reef surveys in the Caribbean and conserving sea turtles in Costa Rica. The charity's Oceans Appeal aims to raise £25,000 by the end of 2008 to fund critical research projects.
For more information please contact Jane Nijssen, Press Officer, + 44 (0) 1865 318852 / firstname.lastname@example.org, or Zoe Gamble, PR Manager, + 44 (0) 1865 318852 / 07725690469 / email@example.com
*The research findings were published in ‘Bottlenose dolphins using the coastal regions adjacent to a Special Area of Conservation in north-east Scotland', published by Ross M. Culloch and Kevin P. Robinson of the Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK, with funding from Earthwatch (see: www.crru.org.uk/research/papers/culloch_&_robinson_JMBA_88.pdf).
A bottlenose dolphin mother with her calf.
Bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth.
Volunteers can join Earthwatch scientists researching dolphins in the Moray Firth.