Twenty years of dolphin detectives
Wednesday 8 December 2010
Scientists have responded to more than 9,000 public reports as part of one of the largest investigations into marine mammal strandings in Europe.
More than 2,500 post-mortems have been carried out by researchers during 20 years of the Defra-funded UK Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) coordinated by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
The CSIP has produced one of the biggest open access scientific datasets, which includes some of the first evidence of dolphin deaths in fishing nets, links between chemical pollutants and deaths due to infectious diseases, bottlenose dolphins killing harbour porpoises and the discovery of “decompression sickness“ in deep-diving whales.
Now scientists are calling on more people to be their eyes and ears along the UK coastline and report any stranded animals, as they meet to review 20 years of data.
Rob Deaville, CSIP coordinator from ZSL, says “Reports from the public play a crucial role in making us aware of stranded animals. These reports can sometimes prove to be life-saving, but ultimately they all make a valuable contribution to the long-term conservation of cetaceans.”
The Thames whale in 2006 and the mass stranding of common dolphins in Cornwall in 2008 are just two of the high profile cases that the CSIP have investigated during the 20 years that the programme has run.
Dr Paul Jepson, wildlife veterinarian at ZSL, says “We have studied a huge spectrum of species that has allowed us to build up a picture of how human activities impact our marine life. This had led to changes in policy and best practice around fishing activities, chemical pollutants and military operations. We now need to continue this research to ensure we minimise these impacts in the future.”
In addition to cetaceans, the species studied by the CSIP have now been expanded to incorporate stranded marine turtles and basking sharks.
Richard Benyon, Minister for Environment and Fisheries, says “This project has done much to improve our understanding of why whales, dolphins and porpoises strand on UK coasts. It is an excellent example of how Government, scientists and conservation groups can work together with dedicated volunteer groups to monitor and protect our wildlife.”
The CSIP 20th Anniversary Symposium will take place on Thursday 25 November at ZSL London Zoo.
The collaborative UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) has been running since 1990 and is funded by Defra and the Devolved Administrations.
The CSIP coordinate the investigation of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline.
The data and samples collected during research have facilitated a large number of international collaborations, which have addressed a wide range of scientific questions.
Further information on the CSIP may be found at www.ukstrandings.org