The recent spell of hot, sunny and calm weather has brought a large and spectacular influx of marine animals into Lyme Bay including schools of dolphins, thousands of seabirds, large pelagic fish and even a mighty whale!
The animals have been spotted by researchers from the Dorset-based marine conservation charity MARINElife, who have been studying the animals in Lyme Bay and surrounding south west waters since 2007. Over the last five years more than 200 surveys have been completed by MARINElife volunteers totalling 60,000 km travelled – a distance equivalent to sailing one and half times around the earth! Thousands of sightings have been logged and are contributing to a European-Union funded project - Charm III which aims to research and map marine biodiversity in the Channel.
The sightings this week have been unprecedented though. Over the course of four full days out at sea between the 21st and the 26th July highlights included a breaching Thresher Shark, a Minke Whale watched for two hours swimming to within 20 metres of the boat, over 60 bow-riding White-beaked Dolphins, several playful Common Dolphin schools, numerous sightings of Harbour Porpoises, an Ocean Sunfish, large numbers of Compass Jellyfish and a feeding frenzy of seabirds involving over 1500 Manx Shearwaters and 800 Gannets. Several rarer seabirds were also seen including Pomarine Skua, European Storm-petrel, Sooty Shearwater and small numbers of Europe’s rarest seabird - the globally endangered Balearic Shearwater.
The sightings of White-beaked Dolphin were particularly satisfying, as MARINElife is building a catalogue of fin photos, which help identify individual animals. And amongst these recent groups we have seen individuals we have encountered before. Over the four days at sea, at least six different dolphin schools were seen. Lyme Bay is thought to be the most southerly location in the world for this cold-water dolphin species, which is threatened by climate change.
The majority of the sightings have been well out of sight of land, more than 20 miles offshore in the deeper waters of the middle of Lyme Bay. Here, the animals are largely undisturbed.
Dr Tom Brereton, Bridport-based Research Director of the charity MARINElife commented, “Following an unprecedented spell of windy weather lasting for months, finally it’s been wonderful to get back out to sea in such perfect weather. The sheer variety of animals present has taken us by surprise, with so many incredible encounters. Lyme Bay offers world class marine wildlife watching at the moment.”
MARINElife is a charity, established to co-ordinate and develop a growing portfolio of cetacean and seabird research and monitoring projects, chiefly in European Waters. Focal areas of work include whale, dolphin and seabird monitoring from ferries and other ‘ships of opportunity’, and research on Balearic Shearwaters, Bottlenose Dolphins and White-beaked Dolphins. Through these projects and collaborations, we aim to further the conservation of the wildlife of oceans and coasts through scientific investigation and educational activities.
MARINElife continues to work in partnership with a number of other research groups, spearheading an international initiative, the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC) that aims to describe changes in the status of whales and dolphins at a European scale. Further information on MARINElife can be found by visiting our website: marine-life.org.uk
How to get more involved:
Studying marine animals at sea is one of the most costly forms of research but is essential for future conservation efforts. For further information on MARINElife, including how you can get involved or help support the vital work of the charity contact MARINELIFElife Development Manager Andrew McLeish by email at email@example.com.
To find out what is being seen log onto the Charm III blog at www.marinelife-charm3.blogspot.co.uk/
For guided boat trips into Lyme Bay, lead by MARINElife guides contact David Shute at Naturetrek on 01962 733051.