Record year for Cornwall’s Marine Wildlife

Over 2,500 records, representing tens of thousands of animals, were sent into Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Seaquest Southwest Project in 2016 – a record breaking year for the initiative as described in their recently released 2016 report. From our Cornish bottlenose dolphins to the rare arctic bowhead whale, this result continues to support Cornwall’s top status as one of the best places to see coastal and marine wildlife in the UK.

Seaquest Southwest is a citizen science marine recording project. For over 20 years the Trust has been recording the distribution and abundance of our most charismatic marine wildlife; including dolphins, sharks, whales, porpoise, seals, sunfish and much more. In 2016, the public sent in 2,640 reports of wildlife spotted around the county, ranging from iconic humpback whales to the smallest cetacean on earth – the harbour porpoise.

Katie Bellman, volunteer Seaquest Southwest Coordinator for 2017 says,

“All year round Seaquest encourages the public to submit their valuable sightings. In 2016 they certainly delivered! Compared with the last five years, there were a record number of common dolphin encounters in 2016, as well as our second highest number of harbour porpoise sightings. Along with the common visitors to our shores, we are always delighted by rare sightings. 2016 provided one of our first inshore encounters with white-beaked dolphins and the second sighting in 10 years of a ghost harbour porpoise. We also had our second confirmed sighting of a bowhead whale commonly found in the Arctic. Humpback whales were videoed on the north and south coasts of Cornwall along with three sightings of killer whales.”

Ghost Porpoise

In addition to marine mammals, Cornwall hosts some of the most iconic sharks of the British Isles, such as the basking shark. Seaquest experienced a flurry of basking shark sighting records in May 2016 which was hoped to be the start of a busy year; however, the total number of sightings declined for the fourth year running after 2012 resulting in a disappointing number recorded.

Seaquest data is stored at the Environments Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS), which is hosted by the Trust and used to monitor populations, understand behavior, and high-light activity hotspots to make a real contribution towards effective protection and conservation for these species.

Abby Crosby, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust says,

“The receipt of these incredible sighting records shows that there is an increasing awareness of the need to record marine wildlife and the value of citizen science. Only with evidence-based records of occurrence, behaviour, and ecology can we act to better protect and conserve these wonderful animals around our Cornish coastline.”

Increasing public participation and educating a wider audience about the importance of our marine environment is key to achieving the aims of the Seaquest Southwest project.