There is something special about sighting dolphins and whales in the sea, and yet we know very little about what impact climate change is having on them. This is something a Muizenberg-based research collective hope to change by using observations from the public as part of its research.
Sea Search want to harness the power of “citizen scientists” to contribute local knowledge to its study, says Simon Elwen, principal investigator and team leader. Researchers can’t be everywhere all the time, so whether you walk on the beach, are a tour operator, surfer, fisherman or use the oceans in other ways, Sea Search want to hear from you.
Your observations of whales and dolphins as a citizen scientist, will help Sea Search map the distribution of cetaceans in the Western Cape and so gauge the impact of changing climate marine ecosystems on them.
Dr Elwen said that, just like elsewhere in the world, there were clear signs of changes in the climate and marine ecosystem around southern Africa in a range of plant and animal species. But scientists are still in the dark about the impact of climate change on cetaceans in our wa-ters because of their ex-tensive ranges and habitat.
This is where Sea Search – and you – come in. Their project runs until 2018, but the citizen science aspect will be for a year, ending in March next year.
Interestingly, besides fellow principal investigator Tess Grindley, who is a Claude Leon post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cape Town, the other five researchers are linked to the landlocked University of Pretoria.
Last year, the Mammal Research Institute completed its 37th an-nual survey of southern right whales, flying from George to Muizenberg, which has resulted in the longest ever such data sets in the world. Why is this, when there are no whales in Pretoria, the Echo asked?
“University of Pretoria researchers also work in the Antarctic and on lions. There are no lions in Pretoria either,” Dr Elwen quipped.
Clearly the lure of the ocean is too strong for these academics, and four of them live in Muizenberg, one in Hermanus and one in Plettenberg Bay.
They will be adding citizen science to their multidisciplinary approach, which includes conducting scientific surveys by boat to find and identify animals and their behaviour and using an array of hydrophones to detect animals 24 hours a day. The hydrophones are placed in key sites of interest and “listen” all the time, hearing dolphins up to 2km away and whales potentially tens of kilometres away, said Dr Elwen.
* Sightings can be submit- ted directly via email: sightings@ seasearch.co.za, or by adding observations to iSpot Nature (www.ispot nature.org) or through tagging our facebook profile “Seasearch Sightings” in photos or sightings of animals. If you would like photos of the different dolphin species to aid your sightings, contact info@seasearch. co.za
Sightings should be submitted, with as much detail as possible with species, location, date (what, where and when) and group size being the core pieces of information required. Photographs are extremely valuable to help confirm this information and most cellphones these days can easily add date and location to images.