Our brilliant volunteers have now been completing surveys for Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) since September 2021 at dedicated survey sites in Quendale Bay, Mousa Sound and South Nesting Bay as well as reporting sightings from all areas of Shetland. The Shetland Porpoise survey is led by UHI Shetland through the Shetland Community Wildlife Group in collaboration with WDC Shorewatch and NatureScot.
Site Focus- South Nesting Bay
- Volunteers have undertaken over 50 watches
- Out of those watches porpoises were seen on 41 occasions
- They were seen every month from October to March
- with groups of over 50 individuals being recorded on occasions.
An amazing effort considering the weather and short daylight hours we have over the winter here in Shetland.
During the surveys we have seen and managed to capture on film, some really interesting behaviour which has not been documented in Shetland before, and very rarely elsewhere in the world!
From the shore we had often been seeing individuals ‘rushing’ at other porpoises creating a fair bit of motion and splashing. Thanks to Richard Shucksmith and Nick McCaffrey, who managed to capture drone footage of porpoise groups, we have been able to see this behaviour more clearly and can see that the porpoises are performing behaviours linked to mating – males rush towards females in mating attempts and flash their undersides to the females as a form of display.
Rachel Shucksmith from UHI Shetland says;
“porpoises around Shetland can often be overlooked, but at locations like South Nesting Bay, Mousa Sound and Quendale Bay we are seeing large aggregations. The effort-based shore observations and drone footage can provide important insights into porpoise behaviour. Observations from outside of our watch sites are also important and we encourage reporting of sightings across Shetland. We are also really keen to get further drone footage, particularly at South Nesting Bay and at our site overlooking Mousa Sound, so if you are a drone pilot and have experience filming wildlife we would love to hear from you!”
The work being undertaken by our volunteers at our porpoise survey sites will help us gain a better understanding of porpoises around Shetland and how they use different areas during different times of the year.
It will be used as a preliminary dataset for PhD student Sophie Smith, who will be starting in October 2022. Sophie will be based at UHI Shetland, supervised by Rachel Shucksmith, Prof Ben Wilson (SAMS UHI), Dr Lauren McWhinnie (Heriot Watt University), as well as benefiting from the expertise of the UHI team behind the Shetland Community Wildlife Group, Emma Steel and the team at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Marine Scotland Science, and from Shetland based marine mammal expert at NatureScot, Karen Hall. The studentship is funded via the SUPER Doctoral Training Programme.
The Shetland Community Wildlife Group along with Whale and Dolphin Conservation will be supporting the project by continuing to undertake surveys, reporting one-off sightings and helping to capture drone footage and images of porpoise behaviour.
The studentship will then explore the use of these data collection techniques to further investigate porpoise behaviour, and spatial and temporal use relevant to their conservation and management.
If you are interested in getting involved in undertaking porpoise surveys or have one-off sightings records to submit please get in touch via email at Shetlandcommunitywildlife@outlook.com or take a look at our Porpoise Survey page for more details