Northumberland sightings in National Whale and Dolphin Watch

Bottlenose dolphins. Picture by Peter Evans/Sea Watch Foundation
Bottlenose dolphins. Picture by Peter Evans/Sea Watch Foundation

The results of the 2017 National Whale and Dolphin Watch are in - as viewers of BBC Countryfile will have seen last night.

During last year’s event, which took place from July 29 to August 6, a record-breaking 1,529 hours of dedicated watches took place. Some 300 hours more than any previous occasion, this represents 2,500 volunteers all around the British Isles getting involved to report on the UK’s whale and dolphin species in the 16th year that this citizen science scheme had taken place.

Kathy James, sightings officer for Sea Watch, said: "It's so important for people to join in helping us to track whales, dolphins and porpoises in UK waters. The Sea Watch Foundation database holds hundreds of thousands of records which are used by scientists and governments to inform research and policy on these wonderful animals. By taking part, people are directly contributing to their conservation."

Aside from the expansive effort put in by volunteers in 2017, there were also a huge number of whale, dolphin and porpoise sightings reported as part of the event. 1,410 records of cetaceans, the collective term for whales, dolphins and porpoises, were reported from land and at sea.

"The wonderful thing about watching for whales and dolphins in the UK is that you don’t necessarily have to get on a boat to see them," added Kathy. More than half of the reports received came from land-based volunteers stationed at one of 108 survey sites or those who were lucky enough to spot a cetacean as they went about their other business. Forty-eight vessels were also involved with the event, from pleasure craft and fishing vessels to ferries and cruise ships.

The reports received during the 2017 National Whale and Dolphin Watch amounted to around 6,500 individual animals 'captured' by the survey, a powerful testament to citizen science.

This most recent effort also showed that on average around the UK, a cetacean could be spotted once an hour. North and East Scotland, South Devon, Cornwall and the North East all had a greater sightings rate than the national average. These excellent cetacean-spotting areas clocked up between one and five animals per hour on average per site.

The North East was also the area where the highest number of volunteer hours were spent watching for cetaceans - almost 250, while Northumberland is mentioned specifically in the report, which can be read in full here, for sightings of a group of around 20 bottlenose dolphins as well as a group of 30 white-beaked dolphins. Amber Thomas' picture of a bottlenose dolphin leaping out of the water of Berwick is also used to illustrate the report.

Eleven different cetacean species were seen in UK waters during the National Whale and Dolphin Watch. All in all, 29 species of cetacean have been recorded in UK waters although only fourteen are recorded regularly.

Sea Watch Foundation is seeking volunteers to come forward to take part in the National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2018 this summer, which takes place from July 28 to August 5. Surveys can take place from your favourite or closest bit of coastline and boat-users are urged to get in touch too. No experience is necessary as the team at Sea Watch will offer you training and advice on how to take part. Visit www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/nwdw