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Scientists Join Forces To Study Elusive Whales- DIVER 2008 PROJECT

A group of Europe’s leading marine conservation and research organisations have joined forces to carry out further crucial research into some of the rarest and most elusive marine animals on the planet – beaked whales.

The research programme, called “Diver 2008”, commences on the 28th June and will run for a month off the northern coast of Spain, within the Bay of Biscay – an area renowned for sightings of these mysterious marine mammals. The programme is named after this group of animals deep diving ability, and follows on from a successful first Diver project in 2006, which established an important research baseline.

Beaked whales are a group of 21 whale species, characterised by their distinctive beaks. They are primarily found in offshore deep water canyons and as such are rarely within easy reach of researchers and whale watching enthusiasts, making them little studied. However, the northern Spanish coast has a number of these deep water canyons within 20km of the coast and past survey work by the Diver 2008 researchers from commercial ferries, has highlighted the importance of these canyons for a number of beaked whale species, including Cuvier’s beaked whale, Sowerby’s beaked whale and Northern Bottlenose whale.

The research is led by the UK-based ORCA (Organisation Cetacea), with the other UK partners including Marinelife and the Seamark Trust, along with Ambar from Spain.

Dr Kelly Macleod, Project Coordinator of the Diver surveys and Chairperson of the charity Organisation ORCA, explained the research aims and methods “The 5 strong research team, will operate from a small yacht, the “BlueFin of Hamble” and focus on estimating the numbers of beaked whales within the area, identifying whether the beaked whales display particular habitat preferences and obtaining photos for use in later identification of individual whales”.

Dr Kelly Macleod, added “The project is exciting because it offers a rare opportunity for scientists to study beaked whales at close quarters from a small vessel sailing along a series of pre-defined survey routes”.

The UK charity Marinelife have provided 30% of the funding for the project and Research Director Dr Tom Brereton commented, “We are delighted to be contributing to this vital research project, which is a great example of collaboration within the marine research field.”

The research is important and timely because beaked whales are known to be very sensitive to certain sub-sea noise and there have been numerous cases of mass stranding of these animals which have been linked to concurrent use of military sonar. Through Diver 2008, the researchers aim to generate the scientific evidence that will help underpin future conservation measures for these vulnerable animals, including advice on the impact noise pollution can have in certain areas of our ocean which can “appear” empty and far from shore.

The data collected through Diver 2008, will add to the knowledge base on beaked whales developed by Ambar, Marinelife and ORCA obtained through surveys on commercial ferries in the region. All three groups share this data and collaborate with other ferry researchers, through the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC).

AMBAR is a marine conservation organisation founded in 1996 who research marine mammals and turtles off the Basque coast of Spain. They run several research projects, including dedicated surveys from large commercial ferries. Further information on AMBAR can be found by visiting our website at
About Marinelife
Marinelife is a Charitable Limited Company established to co-ordinate and develop a growing portfolio of global research and monitoring projects, including the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme, operating since 1995. Through these we aim to further the conservation of the wildlife of coasts and oceans through scientific investigation and educational activities. Marinelife continues to work in partnership with a number of other research groups, spearheading an international initiative, the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC) that aims to describe changes in the status of whales and dolphins at a European scale. Further information on Marinelife can be found by visiting our website at
About ORCA (Organisation Cetacea)
ORCA is a marine conservation organisation which promotes the conservation of the marine environment through research, partnership and education. Founded in 2000, we seek to provide a forum for raising interest and participation in conservation research by creating a network that is accessible to all interested groups and provides a focus for enjoying and learning about cetaceans. Further information on ORCA can be found by visiting our website at
About Seamark Trust
The Seamark Trust is a preservation and conservation charity which aims to advance the knowledge of and promote research into all aspects of the marine environment throughout the world. It carries out a number of projects and has been involved in previous surveys within the Bay of Biscay from its yacht the BlueFin of Hamble. Further information on the Seamark Trust can be found by visiting our website at

About the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC)

ARC is a working group composed of several cetacean research organisations working across a number of countries with the primary aims of sharing data and therefore gaining greater insights into whale and dolphin distribution and species movement.

Current ARC members:
• Marinelife / Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) – England
• Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) - Ireland
• SeaTrust - Wales
• Sociedad para Estudio y la Conservacion de la Fauna Marina AMBAR - Spain
• Project Rugvin – Netherlands
• Aberdeen University – Scotland
• Plymouth to Santander Marine Survey – England
• Organisation Cetacea (ORCA) – England
• Norcet - The Northern North Sea Cetacean Ferry Survey

Adrian Shephard | Diver 2008
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