Friday, 14 December 2012

Shop online and raise money for dolphins? Yes, please!

Tis the season of mince pies, mulled wine and fairy lights- and of course running through the pouring rain in a blind panic to get those last minute Christmas presents. It’s the season of giving so why not give a gift to conservation as well as your loved ones?
Shop for Christmas, save a dolphin!
Adopt a dolphin for Christmas!

Why not Adopt a Dolphin for a marine life enthusiast and treat them to the Sea Watch adoption pack! Choose one of six Cardigan Bay dolphins and they will receive a monthly newsletter of when and where their dolphin has been sighted and with who, as well as a goodie pack including an adorable cuddly dolphin, a dolphin species identification guide and poster, and of course access to an exclusive adopters area!
Or do you fancy doing some ocean related Christmas baking? Order the dolphin cookie cutter from the Sea Watch store and send us your pictures on Facebook! 
And don’t forget that the Sea Watch Foundation is a registered cause on the online fundraising site! Through this site you can create an account to become a registered supporter of Sea Watch, and raise funds for cetacean monitoring and conservation in the UK while you shop online!
Thousands of stores, including online favourites such as Amazon, Photobox and even Ebay as well as many high street stores, are involved in the easyfundraising scheme, and when you shop online with one of these stores using your easyfundraising account a donation will be made to the Sea Watch Foundation – at no extra cost to you!
You can sign up here and start your fundraising today!

Sustainable Christmas
Alternatively, if you are stuck for inspiration and still have shopping to do, check out some of these eco-conscious retailers.
Looking to add a bit of sparkle to your Christmas shopping?
Argent Aqua produces ocean themed jewellery for the marine geek in your life and for every purchase of their silver vaquita pendant, they donate £5 to critical conservation efforts!
Have a look on Etsy for some recycled ocean inspired jewellery pieces.
Shopping for a fashionista? The Manta Ray line at Debenhams supports the Marine Conservation Society and every year they design two t-shirts with all profits benefiting MCS.
Want to keep cosy in the winter? Check out Fat Face’s throw made from recycled yarns.
For a range of unique and eco-friendly gifts, don’t forget to check out Not on the Highstreet’s  great range of gifts.
Marks & Spencer’s have also made a good effort with their Greener Living selection ranging from women’s wear and beauty products to flowers and wine.
For all your fair trade beauty needs, there is the Body Shop which also supports a number of worthwhile causes through the Body Shop Foundation and have made a concerted effort to reduce the impact of their packaging .
It is, however, worth looking around and you will find some lesser known body care brands which are just as good and even slightly cheaper. Naked Body Care produce beauty products that are 97% natural, contain no animal derived ingredients and are packaged in bottles made of recycled plastic bottles- and as an added bonus, they smell amazing, try the Starflower hand lotion! And as if that’s not enough, they support charities like the Woodland Trust, the Rainforest Foundation and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Wrapping it up
If you really want to give a significant gift to the environment, why not give up on the plastic bags this season, bring your own bags to do your Christmas shopping, there’s plenty of re-usable bags that are functional and stylish!
It wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas decorations, but rather than buying plastic baubles every year because the old ones keep breaking, consider crafting your own decorations. It cuts down on waste, is a great way to get in the Christmas spirit and is a lot more personal! Pinterest is a great source of inspiration if you’re not sure where to start!
Christmas cards and wrapping presents are obviously a major part of Christmas as well- and one that causes a lot of waste- but there are ways to cut down on this too; keep a look out for recycled wrapping paper; both Paperchase and Not on the Highstreet provide a wide, quirky and eco-friendly range of wrapping paper and cards. Or you could do away with paper entirely and wrap your gifts in pretty scarf or scrap material than you can re-use every year! Cards are also another good way to make a contribution to wildlife conservation with many wildlife charities such as the RSPB, WWF and the Wildlife Trust now providing their own range of charity Christmas cards. Once the Christmas cheer has dissipated, be sure to dispose of them in a responsible way. Why not take the pledge with M&S to recycle your cards- and get 20% off Woodland Trust membership when you do so?
On the topic of trees, if you cannot abide the thought of a fake one but are conflicted about buying and throwing away a real one year after year, consider hiring a tree! 

So what are you waiting for? Get into the holiday spirit!
Merry Christmas! 


Sorry that this article has taken so long in coming, but it should hope be the starting point of something exciting that Katrin and I are planning.
Last summer I decided to try and organise some shark tagging trips around Liverpool Bay. After plenty of searching I found a fantastic charter local called Tuskar ( with skipper Stan Dickinson. Stan’s boat, fishing skills and knowledge of where to find sharks in the local area was vital, but I still lacked two things, money for the charter and tags for the sharks. In a search for tags I stumbled upon the UK Shark Tagging Program ( ran by Dr Ken Collins of Southampton University. Dr Collins kindly gave us the tags needed and we in return give send the UKSTP the data. This meant the only missing part of the puzzle was money. To account for this I decided to offer place on the trips to the public and get people involved in work I hoped to carry out. I must admit I was absolutely amazed by the response, I had many more applications to come on the three planned trips than I could possibly take and I was able to fill up two trips alone in a couple of hours!
Our wonderful vessel, Tuskar.
Our main target for tagging was tope (Galeorhinus galeus) a major predator of mackerel in Liverpool Bay and we had arranged our first tagging trip for early August. Sadly, the weather got in the way and we were forced reschedule. Unfortunately this meant that some people couldn’t make the trip, luckily we were able access our back up list to fill the boat!

The first crew!
Shark! A small spotted catshark.
We set off eventually on the 9th of August in the morning fog, the water was however as flat as we could have hoped for. We left our start point at Priory Wharf in Birkenhead and headed out of the Mersey northwards to the waters just off the Ribble estuary. On the way we saw a great deal of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). As we drew closer to our destination the fog began to clear leaving a cloudless sky and a truly beautiful day for being at sea. We began by getting our bait caught, mackerel. Probably the easiest fish there is catch. We caught our mackerel, prepped our rods and set out our homemade chum. Sadly the tope where just not biting and our only sharks where lesser spotted catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula). While it was a wonderful day, sadly we didn’t find our targets, despite a range of other fish caught.

The second crew
Me with a starry smooth hound
The second trip on the 16th of August unfortunately lacked the clear weather so targeting tope was not possible. To make sure we could take our guests out we decided to try to tag common smooth hounds (Mustelus mustelus) and starry smooth hounds (Mustelus asterias) using peeler crabs. After our short trip to our fishing area, we prepped our crab and set out our rods. For some time we saw nothing but a single dolphin. Finally though, we got a bite, a young starry smooth hound. Sadly the shark was just a bit too small to tag. We caught a few more starry smooth hounds and one common smooth hound, but sadly again they we were all too small to tag. Alas we failed again to tag a shark, but I was pleased to have been able to have seen two species of shark. 

The final crew!
So was it to be third time lucky? After some date rearrangement and some alteration with our guests, we set out on our final trip on the 31st of August, the last day of the season. The weather was on the very edge of what we could feasibly go out in and it was rather rough. As we set up I noticed one or two of our guests were feeling a little under the weather, which was the case for our whole trip. Our luck was in when it came to fishing though. We were catching sharks. Sadly we were catching sharks that were only just under our tagging size threshold! That was until Blackpool and Fylde College’s head of science, Jean Wilson, caught a common smooth hound that was big enough. There was a lot of excitement as we filled in our first card of the season and Jean tagged her first ever shark. We let the shark go, watching it swim away we felt elated. Sadly while we caught a couple of extra sharks, we failed to find any more sharks large enough to tag. We returned to Priory Wharf pleased with the day we had, finally achieving success in our last trip of the year.
Jean with out tagged common smooth hound!

 I am looking forward now to next summer when we hope to have at least 10 trips and more success with the sharks we after. Thank you to all who came along, without you this could never have happened. Next year this trip will be part of what we hope will be a successful new charity for studying the marine life of Liverpool Bay and educating the public about local species (Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust). We are still in process of setting up and as of yet lack a website, but these will be coming soon.
A pretty little starry smoothie!

For those interested in joining us next year, please contact me:

Thank you! Matt.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Marine Day fun at Blackpool!

We are back! After far to long an absence!

It’s been a busy couple of week for marine life enthusiasts in the North West, the North West conference, the upcoming Irish Sea conference in Liverpool Maritime Museum, the Manchester Science Festival and of course Blackpool & Fylde’s first ever ‘Marine Day’.
Sponsored by the Biology society, this event was a great opportunity for students to get in contact with ‘real’ people working in marine science. With displays from the RSPB and local Wildlife Trusts as well as workshops on wildlife photography, coral conservation and of course, UK cetacean identification and Matt was also here talking about UK shark species as well as workshops and a talk from Dr. Dan Exton from Operation Wallacea, it was an exciting event not only for the students but also the exhibitors themselves!
Themed cupcakes for Marine Day!

Having already given a talk on Sea Watch and UK cetaceans at Blackpool earlier this year, there were a couple of familiar faces in the workshop- and they had clearly done their homework on cetacean ID and were keen to be tested!  With over 25 species of cetaceans having been sighted in the UK in the past 20 years, it would have taken a lot longer than a 15 minute workshop to cover all eventualities so the focus was on identifying the most commonly seen species such as bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise and minke whales based on the often fleeting cues that you spot at sea. If you are looking for a detailed species profile, check out my previous blog article or the Sea Watch identification guides.
Cetacean ID workshop

The first thing to note when encountering a cetacean at sea is size; estimating size at sea is tricky as you may only get a quick glance, if you can it is a good idea to compare it’s size to the vessel you are on as it will give you a rough estimate of the size.
Note the size, shape and positioning of the dorsal fin; in baleen whales the dorsal fin is usually about 2/3 of the way down the animal’s back whereas in dolphins it tends to be more centrally placed. Some whales have small falcate fins that are not dissimilar from a typical curved dolphin fin, so watch out how much back you see before the fin appears. Some species have very characteristic fins, as for example killer whales, where the dorsal of the male can reach up to 2m in height and is extremely straight and erect. Others, such as pilot whales, have a large, broad based curved fin that differentiates them from most other species. Porpoises, in comparison to dolphins have small triangular fins.
Long finned pilot whales

Killer whale dorsal fins, note the tall straight ones belong to the males, the shorter curved ones females or immature males

Try to get an idea of the animals colouration, although colours can be misleading depending on what light you see the animals in, some species have highly characteristic colouration such as the easily identifiable black & white colouring in killer whales, other species such as common dolphins have prominent hourglass shading on their sides.

Short beaked common dolphin
Risso's dolphin, note absence of beak
You are not guaranteed to see the animals head but if you do, make a note of it’s shape; does it have a prominent beak, is it rounded, does it have a large melon (‘forehead)?

Bottlenose dolphin, note prominent beak

Finally, although not quite as useful for identification as physical attributes, observe the animal’s behaviour. Although it is by no means a fail safe method, some species are more likely to behave in certain ways than others; for instance harbour porpoises rarely leap out of the water, so if you are looking at small bodied, leaping cetaceans, it’s unlikely they are porpoises.
Generally it is a good idea to make notes on anything and everything you see, write it down if possible, at the time it may seem like you will never forget a detail of the encounter but you would be surprised how the mind can play tricks on you!

Me starting my talk!
After Kat had finished her workshops it was my turn to take to the stage with my first ever talk. Over the summer I ran a series of shark tagging trip in Mersey bay looking to tag tope and common and starry smoothhounds (we will have an article on this soon). Jean Wilson (Blackpool and Fylde colleges head of biology) attended on of these trips and as well as catching two sharks (and tagging one) she invited me to give a talk on Marine Day on UK shark species.

I must admit, writing my first talk was a little bit nerve racking! But as I got in front of the audience and began the talk I found it very exciting. The talk was a small overview of shark basic shark biology and information on a selection of UK shark species. My aim was to introduce the students and staff the range of shark species in UK waters, of which there are more than many people expect.

I had a lot of fun showing people the smooth hammerhead, the second largest of the hammerheads, the porbeagle and mako sharks, smaller relatives of the great white and the largest of the dogfish, the greenland shark and the shark no one in the room had previously heard of, the frilled shark.
A smooth hammerhead

The talk also gave me the opportunity to advertise my shark tagging trips in the north west of England (which are not for profit) where we arrange for the public to have the opportunity to fish for and tag local shark species.
Frilled shark
The talk was a great success and I hope to be able to offer more in the future, not just on sharks but also on biotelemetry.

We would like to thank Blackpool and Fylde College and to Jean Wilson for making this possible!

I would also like to add, for anyone thinking of a blog site, I cannot reccomend you don't use the awfulness of Blogger!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fundraising to save our seas!

Hello, we are back here at Ocean Blogspot after a few very busy weeks (or maybe months) we will be updating you with our goings on and with new articles from guest writers. This is our second article from Tori Williams from the Marin Conservation Society, who we are big fans of here at Ocean Blogspot! 

            As the Community Fundraiser at the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) I am really lucky to meet and work with many of our supporters. People from all walks of life are so passionate about protecting our oceans that they will take part and organise events to raise the vital funds needed for MCS to continue our work.

2012 is the first year that MCS has organised a fundraising event – the Big Sea Swim - and I have managed this project from start to finish. From speaking to suppliers, working with our Pollution team to ensure the location has a record of good water quality (the last thing I wanted was a group of sick swimmers!), coordinating volunteers, to working out budgets and informing participants. It’s been a really busy nine months and a real team effort!

The Big Sea Swim took place in Eastbourne on Saturday 30th June and despite the blustery weather conditions 53 competitors braved the breakers. It was a little worrying getting up at 6am to see the waves breaking and the flags flying along the seafront; postponing the event would have proved challenging with this year’s summer being so unpredictable! Unfortunately we had to cancel the longer distance swim of 3km; luckily conditions improved enough, allowing all swimmers who were confident in choppy water, to take on the 1km distance. You can see the full results and photos from the day by visiting
As the project manager, it was fantastic to see the event come to fruition and I really enjoyed meeting the swimmers on the day – its great putting faces to names after weeks of sending emails and speaking on the phone!

In addition to organising the Big Sea Swim, I also support all individuals and groups that choose to fundraise in aid of MCS – this involves anything from simply sending them a fundraising pack to assisting the promotion of their events via our website and social media and helping them develop the ideas that they have.

I attend the Brighton Marathon annually, which is one of my favourite events to work at and it has the perfect setting for MCS supporters – our runners have said that running along the seafront for the 26th mile (towards their motivation for taking part) is truly inspiring!

Our amazing supporters take part in a range of challenge events such as marathons, Land’s End to John O’Groats bike rides, sponsored walks and some of the more unusual challenges include kayaking from London to Marrakesh and currently two supporters are walking from Cardiff in Wales to Cardiff in New South Wales, Australia (you can follow their three year walk here: 

If anyone would like to do something amazing for our seas and fundraise in aid of MCS, you can get in touch with me via

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Dolphin friendly ice cream? Fintastic!

Wow, last week was exceptionally busy but really worth it and now here’s a really tasty update!
Eat an ice cream, save a dolphin? Sounds to good to be true? Well, now it’s possible! Caffe Cream of New Brighton is making waves with it’s most recent addition to their delicious ice cream selection! “Aquamarine” looks like swirling waves, tastes subtly like candy floss and marshmallows and best of all for every scoop sold, Caffe Cream will be donating 10p to Sea Watch!

"Aquamarine", Caffe Cream's new 'dolphin friendly' ice cream!

Caffe Cream is located on the New Brighton seafront in the new Marine Point development, just around the corner from one of our regular land watch sites. Although it only opened in January 2012, it has already earned the Wirral’s Fairtrade Champions award and was shortlisted for the Liverpool Tourism Awards in two categories; Taste Liverpool and Sustainable Tourism. It serves a variety of snacks, pastries and (fair-trade) beverages but their main pull is without a doubt their delicious artisan ice cream. All ice-cream sold at Caffe Cream is freshly made on site, which means they can make pretty much any flavour they set their mind to, including their quirky trademark flavour Wasabi Pea and seasonal specials such as ‘Hot Cross Bunny’! Now they have set their special skills to work to raise awareness for our local marine life! Caffe Cream’s manager Justin Dooley, a long time marine wildlife enthusiast, was on board with the idea straight away and  on Tuesday, I got to taste test the new creation for the first time!

Aquamarine, saving dolphins with every scoop!

Aquamarine is not only fair trade, hand made and pretty but it also tastes amazing! It utilises a special type of ‘warm ice cream’ with a soft marshmallowy texture to create the attractive rippling effect and gives this ice cream a unique combination of flavour and texture!
If you want a special treat and a taste of conservation, why not head down to Marine Point and give it a try! And while you’re there, keep your eyes on the water, you never know what you might see!

Caffe Cream, home of award wining ice-cream!

You can find Caffe Creme here:
Marine Point
King Parade
New Brighton
CH45 2PB
You can also follow them on Twitter.
Or like them on Facebook
And if you had a great experience, why not show your appreciation and write a review on Trip Advisor

Friday, 15 June 2012

Sea Watch seeks students by the sea shore!

Hello again, we're very sorry about the lack of updates, but it has been a busy period here at OceanBlogspot, so are next few articles are going to be catch up on what we have done recently.

Around three ago we packed my bags and headed off to Blackpool. No, not for a vacation by the seaside, but to meet some of the enthusiastic students at Blackpool & Fylde College studying for a BSc. in Marine Biology and Coastal Zone management.

Short introduction to the Sea Watch Foundation

With only two permanent members of staff, Sea Watch relies heavily on volunteers and many of Sea Watch’s current volunteers are students or recent graduates from biological science degrees.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship as pursuing a career in zoology has become extremely competitive and many graduates find themselves doing months of unpaid volunteer work to accumulate the necessary experience to apply for ‘real jobs’. With ‘eco-tourism’ quickly becoming a flourishing industry, organisations offering ‘eco-volunteering’ are also becoming increasingly abundant. The only catch is that valuable volunteer and intern opportunities that used to be filled by passionate graduates eager to earn their laurels are now reserved for well paying customers looking for a ‘once in a lifetime wildlife experience’ before returning to their day jobs. While eco-tourism is a great way to raise awareness -and funds- for conservation, it is making it increasingly more difficult for students to find relevant opportunities to gain valuable experience that is essential when applying for jobs. Sea Watch offers students the opportunity to get involved and gain vital experience without an extortionate price tag through a variety of different options and this is what my talk, and this blog post, is all about!

What option is for you? Your choice! Sea Watch offers a range of volunteering opportunities to suit most needs! You can choose just how much you want to get involved and how much time you want to dedicate!

The easiest and most flexible way to get involved is home based volunteering. While it’s definitely the less glamorous side of cetacean research, computer based work is just as important as field work! There is always data that needs entering or sightings that need to be located, there is always something that needs doing! Working from the comfort of your own home, you can decide how much time you want to dedicate to the tasks at hand and fit them around your schedule to suit your needs! In addition to the regular database work, check the website regularly for more specific tasks! At the moment, Sea Watch is looking for School Representatives to provide fun, engaging and educational programs for local schools! Think this sounds like you?  Contact Sea Watch now! 
If it’s field experience you’re looking for, you don’t have to look abroad for projects in exotic locations- although we understand the weather there is probably a lot more enticing- Sea Watch has 35 regional groups all around the country that can provide valuable training and experience in cetacean field observations! The type of work you get to do differs from location to location, but generally the main focus of regional groups are land based cetacean watches which are an excellent way to get a preliminary idea of cetacean populations and distribution in the UK. You may also be able to assist in public awareness work and participate in local events such as beach cleans, bakes sales and World Ocean Day events! Generally, people are asked to commit a couple of hours a week although all field work is of course weather dependent! The Blackpool students were up for the challenge and despite suboptimal conditions joined me for their first land watch on central pier the next day. Unfortunately the heavy fog that was steadily closing in on us shut down the watch prematurely but with National Whale and Dolphin Watch just around the corner and under the watchful eye of their freshly appointed internal land watch coordinator, Sophie, we are confident that we will soon be receiving regular sighting reports from Blackpool!

Blackpool students on land watch on central pier

On watch in Blackpool

To find your nearest group, have a look at our Regional Contact list now! If you happen to live in Cumbria or South East Scotland and are looking for a real commitment and bit more responsibility, we still require Regional Coordinators in these areas!
For a more intensive experience, consider the resident volunteer program in the Sea Watch head quarters in New Quay

New Quay, Wales

Located on the picturesque Welsh coast, New Quay is a small town with a big draw: bottlenose dolphins. New Quay is home to one of  only two resident populations of bottlenose dolphins, as well as harbour porpoises and a grey seals. As a research volunteer with the Sea Watch Foundation, you will commit at least 6 weeks of your time to studying these amazing animals in their natural habitat, taking part in all aspects of field and office work. Field work consists of land based watches, line transect and photo-identification surveys as well as opportunistic observations from tourist boats while you will be learning all about data entry, public awareness work and photo-identification in the office! While the minimum commitment is 6 weeks, there is not upper limit. You can stay, one, two or even for all five of the research periods! Apart from the research volunteers, Sea Watch also recruits and Education Assistant, who works primarily with public awareness, and a Research Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator, a more experienced volunteer who coordinates field and office work. Read more about what our volunteers get up to on their blog and find out how to apply on our website.
Unfortunately, as Sea Watch is a small charity, volunteers do have to pay their own rent (£55 per week, all bills included) and are responsible for their own food expenses, however, Sea Watch has never and will never charge ‘project fees’.

Students also have the option of completing their dissertation in collaboration with Sea Watch. Sea Watch produces a list of potential projects for prospective MSc and BSc students but can also propose their own projects. Most students spent some time in New Quay to collect data but there is also a wealth of historic data to fall back on should all best efforts fail! Current projects include an acoustics project on signature whistles, a boat traffic impact study and a photo-identification study on grey seals. Previous Masters students have even presented their studies at the European Cetacean Conference!
National Whale and Dolphin Watch: 27th-29th July

Finally, for the people who just cannot find the time to commit to any of these projects, there is always National Whale and Dolphin Watch, during which members of the public are invited to take part in cetacean watches around the country to provide a snapshot of cetacean species around the UK. Everyone is welcome and no previous experience is needed, just some weather proof clothes and a bit of patience! Find out what watches are planned around your area on our website!
If you would like to support our work but are unsure where to start, you can always adopt a dolphin! For the cost of one fancy coffee a month(£3.50), you can choose on of our six adoptable dolphins and receive an adoption pack including a Species ID guide, a poster, a cuddly dolphin and access to a special adopters area on our website that allows you to track the progress of your dolphin. You will also receive a monthly newsletter with news and pictures about your dolphin. Tip: If you choose a female, you may well get a calf as well!  All the money donated goes straight back into research and allows Sea Watch to buy vital equipment such as cameras and binoculars!

So what are you waiting for? Sea Watch needs you, help us conserve cetaceans now!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Project C-CATS

Hello everyone! 

I've taken a short break from my duties as Regional Coordinator for Sea Watch to head up to Wales, ironically to the little village of New Quay where Sea Watch headquarters are located, to  assist on a really exciting new acoustics project: Project C-CATS.

Over a time span of 2-3 weeks, an interdisciplinary team of scientists from around the world will be working together to attempt a unique acoustic monitoring study to track bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise in the waters of Cardigan Bay. Although there have been comprehensive echolocation studies in captive cetaceans, relatively little is known about their wild counterparts. Static acoustic monitoring is often used to detect vocalisations of wild cetaceans, such as clicks and buzzes, but there is limited knowledge of the extent to which various factors such as the animal's distance from the data logger and mooring depth affect the detectability of these sounds. C-CATS will be attempting to monitor harbour porpoises and bottlenose dolphins by simultaneously employing a hydrophone array and static PODs; this will allow us not only to localise and track individual animals through the water column but also to calculate detection ranges for C-PODs.

Read more and keep up to date with this project here