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A day in the life of a Marine Mammal Surveyor

Mammal Surveyor on the Bridge


So, you've completed your Marine Mammal Surveyor course and you're raring to get on the ocean (not in, its cold!). ORCA notify you of the upcoming surveys and you've sent your application form only to get an acceptance onto your ferry survey of choice. Now your packing for your trip, some surveys require an overnight stay, some don't, make sure you read the survey itinerary and details carefully. Things to remember, pack suitable clothes, sun cream and sunglasses. You may have to wear a woolly hat, sun cream and sunglasses at the same time, thank you gulf stream! These won't be for the survey but for comfortability whilst on board.

The survey will often be conducted in the bridge where a team of four, including you, will survey for marine mammals. The bridge of a vessel is the command centre, picture the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek and it feels something like that but with less aliens. In all seriousness the bridge is a place where, as a surveyor you must be calm, quiet and focus on your own role. The captain and crew must ensure the safety of all passengers and do so from this room, so it is paramount that they are focused on their own work and not distracted by the survey team. On the bridge you will each have a position as per below to ensure the very best coverage from the vessel. Each surveyor will rotate positions as the human eye can begin to miss things after longer periods of surveying at sea. To help with this the Team Leader will also allocate breaks but please say if you require one as it can affect the data capture.

Now you're all set up with your binoculars, clipboard, sighting forms and ID guide (all of which are provided by ORCA), let the sightings begin. Let the data recorder know by stating 'sighting' loudly enough for them to hear but not so loud as to disturb the ship's crew. Tell the recorder the GPS position and time. Take a distance reading using the reticles on your binoculars and an accurate angle board reading. Finally, the fun bit, identifying the species! Relay the species using the species code, the certainty of your identification and the number of individuals to the recorder. Do this as many times as marine mammals are sighted and enjoy these magnificent creatures.

There will be surveys when you see little but focus on the marine birds and test yourself, see if you can tell the difference between a common gull and a gannet. That said, it's always worth reading up about cetaceans in the area of your survey so you are equipped with identification knowledge. People may find it difficult to believe a Hector's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) was sighted on the Aberdeen-Lerwick survey!

Survey complete time to rest up and enjoy the company of your fellow surveyors who may be like-minded marine conservation geeks, like all of us at ORCA! The Team Leader will compile all the survey forms and send them to us and relay any feedback you had about the survey. The more you do the more you will get used to how to be on the bridge, vessel layouts and schedules and become more confident with your identification. We would much rather you recorded a 'small cetacean' or 'unidentified dolphin' than guess, which may be incorrect and skew the data, further impacting our policy and legislation reach.

So, there it is, that's the day in the life of a Marine Mammal Surveyor, what couldn't be included here are the laughs you have with surveyors, the magnificent wild experiences you witness and the inspiring marine scapes you are invited to see. If you're interested in becoming a Marine Mammal Surveyor please click here and find the course near you. Our next course will be held in ONLINE - Saturday 24th October 9:30am - 4:30pm, to book click here.

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