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Environment / Study on interaction between boats and marine mammals gets underway

Emily Hague checking out some seals at Rerwick.

A RESEARCH project to explore the level of exposure whales, dolphins and seals have to boats has begun collecting data around Shetland.

An AIS (automatic identification system) tracker has been put in place at Sumburgh Head, and people are encouraged to head out to the coast and record boat movements too.

Alongside the trackers and volunteer watches, time lapse cameras are being trialled at a number of sites, with volunteers encouraged to get involved with testing them out at different sites around Shetland.

The main focus sites for the project include Quendale Bay, Mousa Sound, South Nesting Bay and the Knab in Lerwick.

Heriot Watt University PhD researcher Emily Hague, who is leading the project, said the AIS receiver was put up at Sumburgh Head a few weeks ago.

This is collecting data on larger boats around central and southern Shetland.

“Alongside the AIS receivers, we are asking WDC Shorewatch volunteers (those who are trained to spot marine mammals) to join in too” Hague said.

“Training can be provided to help learn how to record what you see, it’s surprisingly simple but the data is essential to helping us answer these questions. I’d encourage anybody over 16 and interested to join in and get involved.”

Hague said the purpose behind the project is because there is very little data on how many smaller boats are in the seas around Shetland – or the whole of Scotland.

The project is also keen to get a handle on how vessel numbers vary over the course of the year.

“We’ve got similar AIS receivers and volunteer watches going on in the Firth of Forth, and we’re considering exploring other sites too, such as the Moray Firth” Hague said.

“It will be interesting and important to explore how much time marine mammals spend in the presence of boats.”

The project, which is being carried out in collaboration with Shetland UHI and WDC, will be ongoing for at least the next year.

“The project is open to any students or school groups in Shetland or elsewhere in Scotland that would like to be involved,” Hague said.

Anyone looking to part take in the project through watching from shore can find more information here or here.