ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors back in the Hebrides



Distance Sampling Surveys are back in full swing on board the CalMac network.

After a big break in surveys due to Covid-19, ORCA Volunteer Marine Mammal Surveyors have returned to the bridges of CalMac Ferries vessels to collect whale and dolphin sightings data.

The CalMac Ferry network travels through rich areas for marine wildlife in the Hebrides, and CalMac have been working in partnership with ORCA to record sightings of marine life, helping to identify important habitats, species distribution, numbers, and behaviour.

The distance sampling surveys are taking place on five routes this year:

  • Uig on the Isle of Skye to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist on board the MV Hebrides.
  • Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis on board the MV Loch Seaforth.
  • Ardrossan to Campeltown on board the MV Isle of Arran.
  • Oban to Castlebay on Barra on board the MV Isle of Lewis.
  • Oban to Tiree, Coll, and Colonsay on board the MV Clansman.

Usually, a team of four Marine Mammal Surveyors conduct surveys on the bridge. One stands on the port side scanning for marine mammals, and one stands on the starboard side. One records all the environmental conditions and weather changes and takes an effort reading every 30 minutes. Meanwhile, one surveyor is on rest and the surveyors swap roles every 30 minutes.

A big range of species can be seen on the CalMac network, and so far, minke whales, common dolphins, harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, and even killer whales have been seen from the ferries, along with a brilliant array of seabirds such as puffins, gannets, and eagles.

Volunteering as a Marine Mammal Surveyor gives people the opportunity to learn new skills in wildlife surveying, to meet like-minded people, and to travel and see beautiful wildlife-rich places, all whilst helping to collect vital data which is used to protect marine mammals and their habitats. We are so happy to be back surveying on the CalMac network. A big thank you to the crews of the vessels for helping us to safeguard whales and dolphins and their future in our oceans.

Find out how you can become an ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor here.

Marine Mammal Surveyor Sharon using an angle board and reticle binoculars to pinpoint the exact location of marine mammals on the MV Hebrides.