Spreading the word: giving my first lecture
It was winter 2017 and I was anxiously preparing for my first seminar presentation. The professor had asked me to give a lecture to the students at the university about my time as a research intern with Sea Watch Foundation and introduce their great conservation work.
Sea Watch Foundation is an NGO (non - governmental organisation) that collects reported sightings of cetaceans around the UK to build an amazing database of which species, and where, whales and dolphins can be spotted. The charity also runs a monitoring project studying the population of semi-resident bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay, Wales. In Japan, NGO's like this are few and far between. There are some small organisations, such as ICERC, that are trying to make a difference with limited resources. National interest in dolphins resides mainly in going to aquariums rather than looking out for wild species so a concept like a sightings database is a very novel idea here. So I was excited to introduce something that I hoped could one day be adopted in Japan.
I started the seminar by showing the variety of cetaceans that inhabit British waters, from the common dolphins in the South to the Humpbacks and Killer whales around Scotland, and the unusual passing strangers that sometimes stop by. For example, in 2016 a Bowhead whale, a species endemic to Arctic and sub-arctic waters, was spotted in Cornwall, South England. With over 30 different species having been reported over the years the diverse range was an instant draw to the UK for the students. They were amazed by the interest and dedication of the British public, with around 3,000 people submitting their sightings to Sea Watch. The information gathered is valuable evidence of important habitats and helps protect these areas.
The two most studied dolphin populations in the UK are the resident bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth, Scotland and the Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphins. Japan also has a well-studied Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin population around Mikura Island (off Tokyo).
My role as a research intern for Sea Watch was to participate in surveys around Cardigan Bay and assist with photo ID to check which dolphins were around that year. I showed the students some of the bay's most familiar residents, along with the recent finding and evidence of infanticide (the killing of a calf) from one of the frequently spotted male dolphins. Another intern duty was to take part in public awareness, such as the the National Whale and Dolphin Watch, where landwatch events are held all over the country for one week every summer. This event is widely covered by the British media and each year gathers more people and more information, providing a snapshot of British cetaceans. Last year over 7,900 individual cetaceans were recorded during this one week! One student was so intrigued by the event that he expressed an interest in going to the UK and taking part in the future!
After I had worked my way through the amazingly varied British waters and relived my Sea Watch days, it was time for the Q&A. The students tested their English skills and asked about how Sea Watch managed to get so many people involved and more about the importance of the sightings database and the many different species recorded. Feeling relieved, happy and inspired, I went back to the professor's house with the students to celebrate with beer, Japanese nabe (hotpot) and Amazon River dolphin videos that were brought by a TV camera woman who had come to listen to the lecture. In the life of a dolphin enthusiast it seems that dolphins are never far away! :)