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CalMac strengthens ties with whales, dolphins and porpoises charity ORCA

Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) is participating for the third year in this week's (July 29 - August 6) professional mariners' survey organised by whales, dolphins and porpoises charity ORCA

Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) is participating for the third year in this week's (July 29 - August 6) professional mariners' survey organised by whales, dolphins and porpoises charity ORCA.

This survey differs from others in that it brings together professional mariners from all over the UK to chart sightings of cetaceans. Many of the companies involved traverse the same areas of sea on a daily business - sometimes multiple times a day -offering an opportunity to capture a unique snapshot of the lives of these sometimes elusive animals to build a valuable picture about the creatures themselves, as well as their preferred habitat and their behaviours.

In the last two years, three of CalMac's vessels have been involved in the annual programme - MVs Lochnevis, Clansman and Lord of the Isles (LOTI) - which has variously opened waterways in the Little Minch, the Firth of Lorne, Sound of Mull, Sound of Sleat and the seas around the Small Isles to monitoring. The crews are trained to look out for key distinguishing features by ORCA staff, which allows them to chart the sightings more accurately.

This year they will be joined by MV Loch Seaforth on the Stornoway-Ullapool route, MV Isle of Lewis on the Oban to Barra route and MV Hebridean Isles, which normally serves Islay, additionally journeying on to Colonsay and Oban twice a week.

ORCA OceanWatch comes alongside a new citizen science initiative being developed by ORCA and CalMac. In June ORCA ran citizen science survey trials on the MV Loch Seaforth and on MV Clansman. The work is particularly important in light of the Special Area of Conservation designated in September 2016 to protect harbour porpoises in the region.

In both cases, trained surveyors were selected by ORCA from its pool of volunteers to go aboard the two vessels, however in future additional volunteers will be required and  ORCA are running a Marine Mammal Surveyor course at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) at Dunstaffnage near Oban in December. Members of the public can sign up to receive training to board CalMac ferries during future surveys planned for 2018 and beyond, with registration open via ORCA's website.

CalMac's environmental manager Klare Chamberlain said: "We began our programme with ORCA a couple of years ago, taking part in the company's first ever Oceanwatch survey.

"There has been great enthusiasm and commitment from our crews and we are delighted to not only continue that participation, but to expand our commitment to both the trial surveys and a co-ordinated training programme for volunteers alongside ORCA.

"We hope that the sightings reported from CalMac vessels both this year and in years to come will become a valuable addition to cetacean monitoring right across Scotland's west coast, and will be of benefit not only to ORCA, but to work being done by both Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland, as well as the sterling work already being conducted by the other wonderful marine conservation charities that ORCA partner with in the region."

Sally Hamilton, ORCA Director, said: "The waters around western Scotland and the Minches are amongst the richest habitats in UK waters, and protecting them is a critical challenge facing the entire marine sector.

"We are delighted that CalMac has embraced the positive work already underway to protect the marine wildlife in the area, and are building on the foundations of their participation in OceanWatch by taking this important next step in preserving the beautiful waters of the western coast.

"ORCA is proud to be working with CalMac on this project, and we are confident that the data we will collect during these pilot surveys and subsequent trips will play a crucial role in the on-going efforts to preserve this natural gem for generations to come."



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