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National Whale and Dolphin Watch Article

Posted on October 1, 2015 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

This is the second article I wrote for the Sea Watch Foundation, here I focus on the success of National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2015: 

Fintastic Family Fun for NWDW 2015

As August began the annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch came to a close, after nine days of fun activities and family events. The Sea Watch Foundation is a national charity working to improve the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in UK waters. From the 25th July to the 2nd August, Sea Watch celebrated a national whale and dolphin watching event, successfully raising over £700 to improve the protection of the local marine mammals. The event kicked off with a sunny day on the pier where we had an education table of bones and baleen, a photo cut-out and a reading of our book ‘The Magic Dolphin’ by the author Kirsten Hintner, along with face-painting and of course, dolphin spotting. Using the old coastguard lookout we had a cliff watch for wildlife and a family picnic just before the weather took a turn for the worse.


Moving out of the gale to our indoor education room, we had children cover the walls with paintings, drawings and activities sheets which soon overflowed into the hallway. Nearly 200 people created ocean art on our walls over the 9 days, while grabbing a treat from our bake sale or playing with our marine life puppets, which were popular with both the children and our interns! On Tuesday we introduced ‘Percy the Porpoise’ to the public – a life sized porpoise made of rubbish collected from a beach clean. A powerful message of how much damage we can do if our litter ends up in the sea. This encouraged people to get involved in our beach clean where we collected a massive four bags from Dolau beach. The beach activities continued the next day for our sand castle competition where ten families participated, making judging the castles a demanding task, but the winner was ‘Nature Castle’, pictured below, which used seaweed, flowers, feathers and stones to complete the look.


The final event on the 2nd August was our raffle, with over 25 prizes from local shops and business we sold out of tickets on the last day (after a daring, but successful, rescue mission to save a ticket which was blown into the sea!). With the wind against us, we sheltered inside to draw the winners of free meals, boat trips, wine, a ukulele and more. With 11 different species reported over the period and 100 events around the UK, this year’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch will be difficult to beat next year!

Ganges River Dolphin Article

Posted on October 1, 2015 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

This is an article I wrote for the Sea Watch Foundation website and blog:

India’s survey for the forgotten Ganges River dolphin


Many people have heard of the critically endangered Vaquita dolphins, with 200 individuals left in the Gulf of California, or the Maui’s dolphins in New Zealand, where the population has declined to fewer than 60 individuals. What we don’t hear about are the river dolphins in the Ganges. Surveys in 2014 reported the best estimate of the Ganges River dolphin population to be less than 30 individuals. The dolphins were once abundant, but due to habitat destruction, destructive and intensive fishing and industrial run-off the species has decreased over 96% since 2012. In comparison, that’s equivalent to more than 20.5 million people dying in the UK every year (over 800 times the average rate).

The Ganges River dolphin reaches 2.5m with a long beak and teeth which can be seen even when the mouth is shut. The teeth are thin and pointed when the calf is born and can be up to an inch long. Over time the teeth are flattened into square disks from use. They have many adaptations for their river environment, including a reduced dorsal fin in form of a triangular bump so they can squeeze through small gaps in between trees. Most cetaceans have a fused cervical vertebrae, restricting their neck movement, but river dolphin’s top vertebrae are unfused allowing them to be flexible and swim through the flooded forest and swim on their sides. All river dolphins lack what most mammals consider a vital body part: the crystalline lens. This is a transparent part of the eye that works with the cornea to focus light on the retina. Without this, it causes the dolphins to be fairly blind in the murky waters, and as compensation for this they have a prominent melon which increases the directionality of their acoustics.


In 2012 I carried out a survey on 100 people (aged 16-70), to investigate the public’s knowledge of river dolphins. 90% said they believed river dolphins receive little conservation due to “lack of public awareness”. If people don’t know, they can’t care or take action. The majority of people had never heard of the baiji river dolphin, which went extinct in 2006 mostly due to habitat destruction and dam construction. It seems we have learnt nothing from the extinction of one river dolphin and without immediate extreme conservation efforts the Ganges River dolphin will almost certainly fall extinct this century.

Humans have long since been using rainforests and river systems for food, power, wealth and travel. With increasing need for these and with advances in technology, more and more development continued to expand the uses of the environment. The largest threat to the Ganges River dolphin is the creation of dams. Within its habitat, over 50 dams have been constructed, including the Tehri Dam which is the 5th largest in the world. It is part of a project in which the Indian government planned to link 37 major rivers through a series of dams and canals. This water withdrawal from the river has caused the Ganges River to be within the top ten rivers at risk of over-extraction worldwide.

On July 26th (only days after the estimate of 30 individuals was publicised) the Indian government announced a clean-up effort of the Ganges River, starting with a survey of the Ganges River dolphins.

"This is the first time a unified survey will be done for an aquatic animal [in India]. It has been done for elephants and tigers but this is more complicated," Dr Sandeep Behera (consultant for the government's National Mission for Clean Ganga) reported. "We are doing the survey in winter, when water levels drop and we can capture numbers in small isolated pockets and get a good idea of the population."

After the survey they hope to identify the hot spots and give those areas protection and priority. Although 450 volunteers will be surveying the smaller tributaries, which has not been done previously, they are subtly leaving the Brahmaputra River out of the survey, where a large number of the population can be found. In April 2009 over 200 Ganges River dolphins were found in a survey of the Brahmaputra River, so the accuracy of their survey results without this river is questionable. It is a step in the right direction, but it could still be too late for the Ganges River dolphin.

We must ensure the loss of two river dolphins causes increased conservation efforts for the boto (Amazon River dolphin), and the Indus River dolphin, which would be the two only true freshwater dolphin species left in the world.


Sea Watch Internship Week 2

Posted on July 27, 2015 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Week two...

Monday 20th

My first day off! Did wing work and typed up my blog, after lunch we had an office meeting and Katrina showed me how to take sightings from other websites and put them into the Sea Watch database. Picked up some leaflets from tourist information for things to do when my parents visit. I went across the road and sat in the 'Toast and Post' which is a teashop and post office. It was a really cute tea shop and I sat on a table for one looking out to sea. It was only me and two grandma's talking about knitting. Then I sat on the pier with Susie and tried to spot dolphins. Later I went over some 'R' stuff and we all watched Grease together in the evening which was fun and the others were impressed I knew all the words to the songs. Our food delivery also arrived, YAY! 

Tuesday 21st 

I had the morning watch at 9am and saw the dolphins on the way to the office before I even got to the pier. They stayed around for over an hour with a little calf doing tail slaps. It was my first watch that I had done alone and it went fine. I enjoyed telling the public about the dolphins and what I was doing. Technology then decided to hate me all morning, lots of computer trouble so I got little work done before lunch. Cleaned the kitchen after lunch then inputted sightings all afternoon. Did a shared wash with Kristina when I got back and hung our clothes all around the whole house because it was raining and we have no dryer. Watched a Castle episode before dinner and then went salsa dancing with everyone. It was really nice to do something with everyone which I was comfortable with. The lesson for supposed to be an hour, but we did it for over 2 and it was only a couple of pounds. 

Wednesday 22nd

Kristina, Katrina and I went on a boat trip in the morning for 2 hours, which was excellent. Saw a huge jellyfish, lots of dolphins (and a jumping one close to the boat) and seals too. We sat on top of the dolphin-watching tourist boat which was a bit strange and difficult (Kristina kept panicking that she would fall off), but fine once you got use to it. It was difficult to take down all the information quickly once we had a sighting, plus the effort data every 15 minutes, even if it was in the middle of a sighting, and take photos! Then I had land watch straight away where I hung out with a mother and calf for 2 hours. Back to office work inputting sightings, in the evening the others went to an open mic night, but I did wing work and watched Castle. Very great day!

Thursday 23rd

Did land watch 11-1pm and then lots of office work all day. Kristina and Charlotte had the day off and went shopping in Aber. I met Peter, the founder of the Sea Watch Foundation, but he didn't seem interested to talk to me much. He had a meeting with the students doing projects on the dolphins though. After office work I helped Alice paint a map in the education room for National Whale and Dolphin Watch, it took me an hour to paint a compass. I was on bin router so that was nasty as no-one had cleaned the inside of the bins and the food bin was full of maggots. In the evening we went to the pub quiz which was very difficult - we came last. I only knew one question which was about the song Jolene. The pub did pimms cider which was so tasty. Alice and I talked about Plymouth which was interesting, I was very pleased when she said how all the first years had talked about my dissertation presentation and how good it was! She said it was that presentation that inspired her to get involved with marine mammals! Kristina, Susie and I headed back early for bed. 

Friday 24th

Another day off! Watched Castle in bed and applied for an expensive working visa for Australia. Cleaned the kitchen and did washing. Went to a shop called the Dolphin Gallery which was nice to look round, bought an arty whale card for Ursie. This week I got postcards from Keeley and Ursie which were lovely surprises and I have stuck on the wall next to my bed. Spoke to mum and Robin, did wing work and after dinner a few of us watched Dirty Dancing 2 and Step Up 2. It was a lovely day despite the rain and lack of dolphins. 

Saturday 25th

First day of National Whale and Dolphin Watch! Mostly just a day in the office, also contacted other companies on Facebook to ask for advertising. I was left in charge of the office and phones for a while and had to deal with a man who was a boat operator and wanted to be under our recommended boat operators on the website. Then I went on the pier with Susie and Kristina while Emma was doing watch. We sold dolphin toys and t-shirts, practising face-painting on each other. (Alice did an awesome sperm whale on me.) Taught the public about different species in the UK and how photo ID works. Didn't actually see any dolphins. The author of The Magic Dolphin book did a reading to children. I cooked Alice dinner and everyone apart from Kristina and I went to a beach party. Kristina made a cake for the bake sale on Monday and I did wing work and had a long bath. We popped to the shop for cake things and Kristina was so confused by the idea of multipack crisps, they don't have them in Germany. She also put fanta in the cake mix and says she's done it with beer! 

Sunday 26th 

It was pouring with rain so all the pier activities were cancelled. I sat in the education room for hours because I was up-to-date with sightings. I talked to the public and encouraged children to paint. It was fine, but a little dull. It was so quiet we put on Finding Nemo and watched that in between talking to people. Weather was better by 3pm so went on watch, but only saw 2 seals. Had dinner and did wing work and skyped Robin. Really hoping to see dolphins again soon! Doing a word-search with children and dot-to-dot wasn't really what I signed on for, but I know public awareness is an important skill to have. 

Sea Watch Internship Training Week

Posted on July 20, 2015 at 6:10 AM Comments comments (0)

My first week at the Sea Watch Foundation in New Quay, Wales, is over! Here's a break down of my training week:

Monday 13th July

Arrived at the house which I'm sharing with 7 other people, it's very nice but not made for this many people! (One fridge between 8 makes life difficult.) I'm sharing an attic room with Kristina and Charlotte, it doesn't have any storage but we get our own bathroom. The town is very pretty, with the houses painted all different colours and facing different directions and you can see the sea pretty much wherever you are. There are two small beaches and a pier/harbour wall. It's tiny, but with lots of steep hills. It's so small the largest food shop (Costcutter - a misleading name) has only one till and the whole town only has one ATP. The postbox is just a cardboard box with 'post' written on it within a shop.

We had a house meeting after settling in so we could meet everyone else. Everyone is really interesting to talk to, everyone has marine degrees and half have masters. Kristina, Charlotte and I went for a food shop and I cooked Charlotte dinner. Then we all went to the pub where an intern called Susie taught me how to play pool. Val and Emma are two American interns who are very loud, but fun. There's a lot of people here from Plymouth or connected to Plymouth in some way. 

Tuesday 14th

Today we had a tour of the office, which was very small and therefore hot, but the front room has a brilliant view over the sea. We then had lectures on land based watches from the pier which we do every day in 2 hour shifts. The talk went over how to fill in the forms, judge sea state, dolphin behaviour and age. It finished with a test of video clips, during which we had to write down the number of animals, if there were any juveniles or calves, and the sea state. I was happy with how I did! The next lectures were on the wildlife in Cardigan Bay in general, then research techniques and data collection.

Our training finished at 4pm so we went for an ice-cream at the best ice-cream shop - lemon cheesecake flavour ice cream! Eating our ice-cream on the pier in the rain we joined Val on land watch. There is another organisation here called the Cardigan Bay project, so I went to talk to them and it was a second year from Plymouth! I bought some postcards and took photos, Charlotte gave me curry and we just had a chilled out evening chatting to get to know each other a bit more. 

Wednesday 15th 

Lectures today were on photo ID and equipment, there was a little 'match the fin' game on the presentation before a long lunch on the beach in the sunshine. They taught us the protocol for photo ID and we had a little exercise to test our understanding. I worked with Charlotte and Alice (a first year from Plymouth who illustrated a book for the Sea Watch Foundation so gets to shadow the education officer for 6 weeks), and we got them all right, yay! Katrina, the research assistant in charge of interns, took us for a walk up a cliff to show us their spot for when they do cliff watch once a week and where some masters students are collecting data. It was a tiny path right on the edge of the cliff, but the views were brilliant! I spotted a porpoise which impressed the others so I was happy! I walked around town exploring the shops a bit, then we went for a drink in the sun - I found a place with cappuccino woo! In the evening we all watched Aladdin on a projector from the office. 

Thursday 16th 

In the morning I shadowed Emma on land watch and she taught us how to use a digiscope, you can literally see things in detail from 1km away, very impressive. They use it for photo ID though and I can imagine it being hard to use on a moving animal. Alice, Julie (education intern) and I went on a tourist dolphin-watching boat to learn the protocol for boat watches. We saw a couple of grey seals and then bottlenose dolphins jumping and tail slapping! We each had a go practising filling in the effort and sightings forms and using the GPS recorder. Afterwards we had sausage and chips on the beach, went back to the office and then did a group land watch. Kathy (sightings officer) got back from holiday today so we went for a drink in the pub with her and everyone. I suffered with either a cold or hayfever so went home early and watched 'Castle' episodes with hot chocolate while everyone else went to the weekly pub quiz.

Friday 17th 

Kathy gave us a lecture on the sightings network and the Sea Watch Foundation, then Megan gave us presentations on public awareness and their adopt a dolphin scheme. Next we had a sightings practical where we split into groups and did a land watch, luckily we did see some dolphins and boat encounters so it was good practice. We saw a jellyfish from the pier and ordered a Tesco food delivery which was exciting. I haven't been eating any meat because it's too expensive! Back in the office we learnt how to input both land watch and boat watch data into certain databases and programmes. It sounded quite complicated, but actually doing it was okay. People watched 'Modern Family' before going down the pub, I did Wing work for dad. 

Saturday 18th 

I had a bit of a lie in and went for a walk, sent postcards and chatted to Joss on the phone, then did Wing work before my land watch 3-5pm where I was supervised by Katrina, it was quiet and we only saw one seal. I met Cedric the seagull who likes to sit next to you if you are wearing a bright red or purple coat. He's the only seagull with a limp and a grey patch on his left side.

The others had a BBQ in the garden and then pre-drinks. Kristina, Alice and I went to the attic and watched The Road to El Dorado which was good fun. I also signed up for a 4 week 'R Programming' online course which is 9 hours a week with coursework and tests starting on the 3rd August. I need to learn it for my masters and everyone in the house knows how to use it and offered to help me, so it seems like a good time to start. Emma sent me all her lectures from uni on using R step-by-step. 

Sunday 19th 

Got up earlier to start Wing work, later it was very sunny so we went out for an ice-cream - jaffa cake flavour! Charlotte and I did land watch together 1-3pm and saw very active dolphins jumping and chasing fish. I stayed until half 4 to watch them, then went rock pooling on the beach with Charlotte, Alice and Emma before going swimming. While swimming we saw the dolphins surfacing and jumping which was exciting! I also took quite a few photos around the beach and rocks - been here 7 days and taken 180 photos. After dinner we watched the film Bridesmaids and I did Wing work. Very lovely day, but busy with tourists on a day trip. Apparently in August it's so busy it's hard to find a place to sit, not looking forward to that. 

So far the hardest jobs are judging distance (we are yet to have training in that) and deciding whether a dolphin is a calf or a juvenile, especially because the dolphins are normally very far away. The house and people are all friendly, but more studenty than I expected (they have been putting salt in the dishwasher instead of any kind of washing tablet... I wondered why things weren't clean). Monday I have a day off and Saturday 25th is the start of National Whale and Dolphin Watch which is going to be busy! From Tuesday - Friday I'm working in the office (around going on watch) doing public sightings, which is talking to the public who have reported sightings to get more details and put the sightings in the system, but I haven't been shown how to do any of that yet. We've had a lot of information thrown at us, but it all makes sense when we put it into practice and the researchers said they expect us to ask a lot of questions in the next week so that's good. Starting from Tuesday I'll be going on watch alone, apart from on weekends when everyone is in pairs so one person can talk to the public so shifts are 4 hours. Wednesday I'm suppose to be going on a boat so fingers crossed the weather improves! 

CIRCE Internship Summary

Posted on July 31, 2014 at 6:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Another volunteering experience completed and another wonderful month working with brilliant people and animals. I spent one month in July 2013 as a research assistant with CIRCE (conservation, information and research on cetaceans) in the Strait of Gibraltar. During my stay I participated in all on-board and land-based activities. For example, I helped at sea with photo-ID of various species of cetaceans, taking loads of photos which they will use in research and analyses. I hand a go at boat handling too, which was good fun, but took a lot of concentration. I spent a lot of time, and extra time, matching pictures for photo-ID on long finned pilot whales. When the weather was bad we watched documentaries and I was given presentations on different cetaceans and areas of research.

During the first half of my stay the other volunteer was French and couldn't speak much English and didn't know that much about cetaceans. She was difficult to work with and didn't do anything fun outside work, but in the second half it got much better when a girl my age studying vet science arrived. She was very interested in everything and we got on really well. I also made friends with the people I lived with, one of the interns was having boy trouble and we quickly bonded over that with me giving her advice.

Throughout my time there I learnt a lot and witnessed them taking biological samples of some whales - which included getting very close to them! I also saw the down side to this sort of work more, such as being completely dependant on the weather, having repetitive jobs to do in the office, working in the rain and the burning sun etc.

It was the first time I had been abroad alone, without any friends or contacts. I managed well and look forward to doing it again. Although if I went again, I would make more of an effort to learn the local language before hand, because a lot of the time everyone was talking and I had no idea what was going on. It was a bit awkward when they would all laugh about a joke or story and I just sat there like a lemon.

Here's a video of my time there:" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">

Internship with CIRCE

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (0)

The other day I got an e-mail saying that my payment had been received and that my trip is booked, so I thought it is time to introduce it to my blog!

On the 8th July I am going to Spain and being a researcher assistant for studying cetaceans around the Strait of Gibraltar, until the 2nd of August. I am very excited to be doing scientific research along with scientists, and other assistants, instead of just volunteering to whale watch or help tourists. If the weather is good, we leave the harbour at 8am and return at 10pm, a whole day of watching and recording cetaceans - what could be more perfect? One of the main aims of the research assistant is the identification of common dolphins, sperm whales, pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales from photo-identification, however depending on the level of experience in the past each will be trained to do different jobs. I am planning on treating it much more like a job than a holiday and working really hard to learn new skills, I would love to be taught how to record acoustics and believe this would be very useful to have done as well.

Around the area there are places to visit and one that I will certainly be going to is an old whaling station as I did not get round to seeing one in Australia.

I am also thrilled to be going somewhere alone for the first time, it will make me mix with people more and I can experience what it would be like to have a job abroad - like I hope to in the future.

I will hopefully book my flights in the Easter holidays, which are not too fair away now, but until then I am enjoying the uni work I have and even more so now that I can work towards this amazing trip in the Summer.

Amazon Volunteering Video

Posted on September 30, 2012 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (2)

Hi everyone,

As promised, here is a collection of video clips from the Amazon put together with the Foo Fighters 'Times Like These'. Took me the whole day, I hope you like it! Click here to watch... 

Thanks, Jen ~x

Amazon Adventure - Video Blog Four

Posted on September 30, 2012 at 6:10 AM Comments comments (1)

Hello all,

I'm on a bit of a roll with the blogs at the moment, hopefully they will keep coming. Although I think I'm dying due to this cough, I will push through and upload for you guys! This is the last video blog I did in the Amazon, but I am planning on putting together a slideshow/video of other video clips and photos too. In the meantime, click here to watch video diary four!

Thanks, Jen ~ x