£1M Government funding for vital whale and dolphin research
Tuesday 22 May 2007
ZSL scientists have received a grant of over £1million from Defra and Welsh Assembly Government to investigate whale, dolphin, harbour porpoise and marine turtle strandings in the UK.
Research into strandings and the causes of mortality in these animals will lead to a better understanding of how to protect them and ensure their future survival. The best-known stranding of recent times was the “Thames whale” in 2006, an event that provoked intense public interest around the world. ZSL was heavily involved in the stranding response and undertook the subsequent post mortem examination. The new grant will allow work to investigate strandings such as this to be undertaken in the future.
The grant will fund the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to lead the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) for the next three years. Scottish Agricultural College, Inverness (SAC), the Natural History Museum (NHM) and Marine Environmental Monitoring (MEM) are partners in the CSIP undertaking work in specific regions of the UK.
Rob Deaville, ZSL scientist and CSIP project manager, commented, “The continued funding from Defra is fantastic news for the UK’s marine life. The research is essential for assessing the health status of whales, dolphins, porpoises and marine turtles in UK waters. These marine top predators act as valuable indicator species for the wider health of our seas.”
Currently around 750 stranded cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are reported annually in the UK. Renewed funding of the programme will ensure that the national cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) and turtle strandings databases and tissue banks will continue to support a broad range of scientific research activity. Incidences of entanglement in fishing gear (by-catch), current or emerging diseases and other causes of mortality will be monitored in order to identify any significant threats to the conservation status of the species. For the first time, the CSIP will begin to investigate incidences of basking shark strandings in the UK.
Over the past fifteen years, the CSIP has identified a number of significant phenomena in UK stranded cetaceans, including by-catch in porpoises and dolphins, a correlation between infectious disease and high levels of pollutants in porpoises, violent and fatal interactions between bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises and, most recently, discovered a decompression sickness-like condition predominantly in deep-diving cetaceans.