Marine Discovery Penzance - wildlife and dolphin watching boat trips


At Marine Discovery we think it is important to conduct research for a number of reasons –

you have to understand the marine environment and its creatures to properly conserve them.

as a company which makes its living from running trips on the ocean and which aims to be sustainable, it is a natural and logical choice to give something back through conducting research.

we go to sea most days that the weather allows, so are in a position to collect an extensive data set by collecting and interpreting our data we can improve the knowledge we are passing on to our passengers and the children we teach. Knowledge and understanding are vital for the future protection of the world’s oceans.

Different ways of researching:

We use two main techniques to gather information about the animals we watch and their environment.

Photo Identification

This involves taking pictures of animals and then using their markings to identify them. We can identify seals, dolphins and basking sharks, and to a lesser extent, porpoises and whales in this way. We can look at patterns, colourings, marks and scars on their fins and bodies, and use these to repeatedly identify them and track their movements.

Bottlenose Dolphins

A bottlenose dolphin surfaces

Bottlenose dolphins often have marks, scrapes or even chunks missing from their fins as well as scrapes and scratches on their bodies which we can use to identify them. We have been collecting images and data on the South West inshore pod of animals since 2006 and work with a number of other researchers in order to try and understand their range. Steve Hartley and Sarah Perry up at the Cardigan Bay Wildlife Centre have an extensive ID catalogue for the Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphins and are interested to see if any of our dolphins visit Cardigan Bay. We also worked with Tom Brereton from Marine Life to produce a report for Natural England and JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee).

Current evidence suggests that the animals we regularly see are a group numbering about 32 (though they’re generally not all together at the same time) which can be seen along the coast anywhere between the Devon/Cornwall border on the north coast and Dorset and beyond on the south coast. Whether they range further afield will be answered by good photo ID work.

Marine Discovery Bottlenose Dolphin ID catalogue 2007-2013

This catalogue is of the pod regularly sighted off the Cornish, South Devon and Dorset coast .The catalogue and images (unless otherwise stated) are the intellectual property of Hannah and Duncan Jones – Marine Discovery Penzance. It can be printed off in its entirety only and is for use comparing the images with other collections of photos. The Images and catalogue must not be reproduced in any other publications (both paper and electronic) without the express permission of the authors and the authors must be credited if permission is given for its use.

Risso's Dolphins

A Risso's dolphin surfaces

Risso’s dolphins have scratches and patterns on their bodies and fins which can make them easy to identify. These marks can change over time so it’s useful to highlight more than one identifying mark for each animal. We are sharing our Risso’s dolphin images with researchers in Wales, Ireland and the Azores at present and hope to send the catalogue up to Scotland. This should help us to start to understand the range of the dolphins we see off the Cornish coast. In 2009 we snapped pictures of a dolphin that had been photographed off Bardsey Island in North Wales in 2006. This was the first positive match for Risso’s dolphins in UK waters – click here for the story.

Marine Discovery Risso's Dolphin ID catalogue

Our Risso’s dolphin photo ID catalogue was put together by Marjke De Boer. It is currently being updated by crew member Becca Knee as part of her research project. Storing it online allows other Risso’s researchers to easily access it and compare photos. We have links in Wales, the Isle of Man and Ireland who check our photos for matches with animals in their waters. The catalogue and images are the intellectual property of Hannah and Duncan Jones – Marine Discovery Penzance and Marijke De Boer. It can be printed off in its entirety only and is for use comparing the images with other collections of photos. The Images and catalogue must not be reproduced in any other publications (both paper and electronic) without the express permission of the authors and the authors must be credited if permission is given for its use.

Grey seals

Grey seals resting on the rocks

We work with Sue Sayer at the Cornwall Seal Group with seal photo ID. She has dedicated a huge amount of time to studying grey seals in Cornwall and their movements. She regularly goes through our pictures looking for matches and often gives us interesting stories about where “our” seals are when they are not in our area. Kelp, a young female seal we watch a lot, disappeared for a period last year while she travelled around to the north coast to give birth to her first ever pup.

The way to identify grey seals is to carefully look at the patterns on their bodies. One to be aware of is that they look different when wet to what they do when they are dry. It is best to get photos when they are hauled out on rocks. When collecting photos it is extremely important to use a long telephoto lens so the photos can be collected with no distubance to the seals.

Basking sharks

A basking shark swims past

Our basking shark ID photos have been submitted to the Shark Trust's fin ID library.

Collecting effort based data

Since starting Marine Discovery in 2005 we have been recording and reporting our sightings. Initially we were reporting them as incidental sightings (telling people what we saw and where it was); this is great for raising awareness about the different marine life in our waters. However it’s not very useful for scientific analysis so can’t be used to determine population sizes or investigate animal behaviour.

In 2007 we met Marjke De Boer at the time she was working with WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) and conducting research in Cornwall for them. She suggested we might want to start collecting effort based data on our trips and helped us to set up the collection and record keeping protocols. A really exciting recent development was when Marjke presented on the collection methods we are using at the 2012 ECS (European Cetacean Society) in Galway. Her talk went down very well and some very important delegates were impressed with the quality of our data set.

The effort data gives a record of wildlife sightings in relation to time spent searching in an area or distance covered searching in an area. We can use this to analyse sightings compared with effort which, when you have enough data collected, enables population estimates to be estimated.

Animal sightings and boat tracks 2008

Animal sightings and boat tracks 2008

We use GIS (Geographical Information Systems) to represent and interrogate the information we have. Doing this, we can work out which areas have frequent sightings of animals and from this, start to consider why and how they use these areas.

This one shows basking shark sightings linked to our effort. The darker squares are where we spent most time and the yellow dots show groups of sharks. This is worked out using 2008 and 2009 data.

Basking sharks sighted per distance travelled by 50 metre grids

Kimara McCrindle’s project also investigated how the density of basking shark sightings changes relative to thermal front activity. She found that during times of strong frontal activity, sightings went up.

Basking shark sightings related to ocean fronts

Basking shark sightings related to ocean fronts.

In doing this we can start to understand which areas are important to these animals and why. This enables us to help inform policy makers who might be considering how best to protect the ocean environment. It also helps us to understand what’s going on out there and the more we know the better chance we have of looking in the right places on our trips.

Animal sightings and boat tracks 2008

Understanding how bottlenose dolphins exploit different areas of the coast.

One of the things Kimara McCrindle looked at was how bottlenose dolphins use different places along the coastline. She analysed the behaviour records we had and came up with some interesting results. I wonder if the playful social behaviour outside the harbour is natural or has been influenced over the years by the distraction of lots of boats in the area?

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