Saturday, 29 August 2015

Marine Mammal Medic Training

Last weekend I undertook the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) Marine Mammal Medic training. The course began at 08:30am with some introductions to the charity and the work they do. They are a voluntary network of trained medics who respond to calls from the public about stranded, injured or sick marine mammals. The rescue teams are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and are based across Scotland, England and Wales.

The BDMLR have equipment strategically placed around the country to assist with whale or dolphin strandings, oil spills, fishing gear entanglement and assist any marine mammal which may be in trouble. The aim of the course was to train new medics which would be able to respond to calls. The morning began with some theoretical classroom-based lectures. We discussed cetaceans and seals found in the UK and common issues which can affect each species. We then found out the best techniques to help them.
Lectures from the BDMLR Marine Mammal Medic Training (photo by Graeme Davison, BDMLR)
As the afternoon approached, we all climbed into our drysuits and headed out to the nearby beach. Here we tested our new knowledge on life-sized models of a pilot whale, dolphin and grey seal pup. In groups, we re-floated the pilot whale using the specialist whale pontoons produced by the BDMLR. We also floated the stranded dolphin using the techniques shown to us before practicing how to capture and safely transport a seal pup which may need rehabilitated.

Practicing how to refloat stranded cetaceans (photo by Graeme Davison, BDMLR)

If you find a live stranded marine mammal, please note the location, tidal state and any visible injuries- without getting too close. Then call the BDMLR on 01825 765546 during normal working hours or the out of hours number on 07787433412. 

The BDMLR are currently fundraising to replace their whale entanglement equipment which was broken whilst assisting a humpback whale off Iceland. Please give generously to allow the charity and their volunteers to help more whales and dolphins which may get into trouble. Thank you!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Isle of May

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Isle of May- the 'Jewel of the Forth'. The Isle of May is a well-known seabird colony, only 6 miles from nearby Anstruther in the Kingdom of Fife. The island boasts huge numbers of nesting seabirds including Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Shags, Arctic Terns and 120,000 puffins! These birds nest from May-July so my visit was outwith the main nesting season however there was still plenty to see. Late nesters such as Kittiwakes and Fulmars were still around in good numbers with well developed chicks almost ready to fledge.
Fulmar chick getting big (photo by Laura Shearer)

Kittiwake chicks close to fledging (photo by Laura Shearer)

I have visited the Isle of May on several occasions however this time I was staying overnight alongside some friends. With several birthdays due (myself included), the Farne Island Ranger team from 2013 met for a mini-reunion. Working around the country, it can be difficult to keep in touch so this seemed like an excellent opportunity to catch up.  As the visitors boarded the boats back to mainland, the hustle and bustle descended and we were left alone. It wasn't long before we fell into our old routines, going off for walks, doing some seawatching and generally having a good time. The team regrouped to assist with cooking diner before cries from outside shrieked "MINKE!". Within seconds the team were watching 2 Minke whales, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, feeding close to island. They continued to stay around for up to an hour- without a doubt the best show I have ever seen of these magnificent animals.

Clockwise from back Left to Right: Andrew Denton, Ciaran Hatsell, David Kinchin-Smith, Rebecca Outram, Jamie Coleman, Emma Witcutt, Jack Ibbotson, Elizabeth Morgan, David Steel, David Roche and Laura Shearer
Feeling elated, the team was buzzing as we headed to the Isle of May Observatory to assist with some overnight bird ringing of European Storm Petrels, Hydrobates pelagicus ( These beautiful birds are lured to mist nets using pre-recorded storm petrel vocalisations before being ringed and processed by licenced BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) bird ringers. During that evening 2 birds were caught and I had the privilege of ringing and processing the first bird- what an honor! Heading to bed that night I could hardly sleep as I relived the amazing wildlife encounters I had experienced throughout the day. This visit to the Isle of May is one which will stick with me for a long time!
Isle of May Bird Observatory (photo by Laura Shearer)

Thank you to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the team on the Isle of May. Keep up to date with their blog: and on Twitter: @SteelySeabirder

Sunday, 2 August 2015

White Beaked Dolphins- Northumberland

Yesterday (01.08.15) I joined Dr Ben Burville and Skipper Alan Leatham for a pelagic tour searching for whales and dolphins onboard Ocean Explorer. This tour operates miles off the Northumberian coast in an area known for its population of White Beaked Dolphins, Lagenorhynchus albirostris, a temperate and sub-arctic species ( The briefing began as Alan tried to manage our expectations "there is no guarantee we will spot whales and dolphins, we are simply exploring an area and recording what we find". After some more health and safety talk- we were on our way.
It didn't take long for us to find some diving gannets- normally an indicator of a good feeding area. Alan cut the engine as we bobbed around the North Sea in hope of spotting of a fin. "Over there- 10 o'clock from the boat" someone had spotted a lot of splashing from a pod of up to 20 White Beaked Dolphins.

The dolphins spotted us immediately and headed straight towards the boat. Ben (under licence from the MMO) slowly entered the water to collect his important research. Working with Newcastle University (among others) Ben's footage has identified individual animals and proven site fidelity of this species over several years.

Onboard we were treated to a spectacular show from the dolphins, swimming around and underneath the boat. They seemed to dominate the whole area- it was difficult to know where to look next! They swam alongside the boat, rolling onto their sides to get good views of everyone onboard. The dolphins stuck around for the best part of 20-30 minutes before eventually heading off into the horizon. As Alan restarted the engine, all of the passengers sat in awe and marveled at the amazing experience of seeing these wild animals up close and personal.

Thank you to Dr Ben Burville (@sealdiver), Alan Leatham and William Shiel- boat owner and son of Billy Sheil MBE who founded "Glad Tidings" (@thefarneislands). Interested in learning more about the trip- see

Individuals can be identified by their markings (photo by Laura Shearer)

What a vista! (photo by Laura Shearer)

The visibility allowed us to follow them under the water (photo by Laura Shearer)

Swimming alongside the boat (photo by Laura Shearer)
Here you can see their obvious white beak (photo by Laura Shearer)