Emma Bell – MSc Student, University of Portsmouth

We have awarded a research grant to Emma Bell who is looking into the areas of importance for Beaked Whales within the Bay of Biscay.

Emma is a marine biology graduate who is currently undertaking a MSc in Coastal and Marine Resource Management at the University of Portsmouth. She has had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. She worked in aquaculture research where she focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, she has experience with coral restoration projects; habitat restoration and monitoring; educational activities; leading conservation activities and workshops; conservation training; and social media updates. Emma started her career working as an intern in the Maldives. Since then she has experienced many other positions. For her, inspiring people and raising awareness for conservation is a huge passion and she hopes that this project will have a positive environmental impact.

Some of Emma’s previous projects include:

  • Global: Dive against Debris
  • Maldives: Paddle against Plastic
  • Maldives: Plastic recycling with Parley
  • Gili Lankanfushi Island, Maldives: Conducting biannual sustainability training
  • Gili Lankanfushi Island, Maldives: Coral restoration project
  • Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru and Kuda Huraa, Maldives: Coral restoration project and turtle rehabilitation
  • Seychelles: Nature Seychelles coral restoration project
  • Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Greece: Preliminary studies on meagre

Links to some of Emma’s publications:

Research Project

Whales and dolphins are an iconic species, but they are under threat from military activity, pollution, entanglement, ship strike, overfishing of prey and climate change. Beaked Whales are data deficient on the IUCN red list – we simply don’t know enough about them.  Recently, there was a mass stranding observed in the North Atlantic, including the largest mass mortality event, recorded in 2018. These stranding’s have been linked to military activity.

The aim of the project is to identify the areas of importance for Beaked Whales in the Bay of Biscay.  It has been suggested that the distribution of cetaceans directly correlates to prey abundance. Higher prey productivity results in higher concentrations of predator species (Jaquet and Whitehead, 1996). However, cetacean populations may be indirectly influenced by bathymetry, hydrology and other biological factors (Kiszka, Macleod, Canneyt, Walker, & Ridoux, 2007). Cetaceans have been found to prefer the continental shelf, and the upper margins of submarine canyons. Steep slopes and submarine canyons effect current patterns which influences primary productivity, driving predator occurrence from the bottom-up (Houston, 1991; Tyack et al., 2006). Beaked Whales show significant preference for deep submarine canyons with many shelf breaks, where they forage for deep-sea prey such as squid (Alvarez and Tintore, 1996; Whitehead et al., 1997; Frantzis et al., 2003; MacLeod and Zuur, 2005).

The Bay of Biscay is an ideal study location due to the availability of long-term data, collected across heterogeneous habitats and characteristics. The research will use the sightings data collected on dedicated surveys by wildlife officers that live and work on-board ferries. Data are available from 1998 – 2008. The sightings will be mapped using GIS. This will then be overlaid with bathymetry information from EMODnet to identify the areas of importance, and the influence of factors such as depth and slope will be tested with statistics.

This project is being undertaken in partnership with ORCA, one of the UK’s leading marine conservation charities, with expertise in cetacean monitoring and research.  Ultimately, this research will identify significant areas of importance for Beaked Whales that will hopefully lead to those areas being protected which will, in turn, support Beaked Whale conservation. There has been a recent call for the Bay of Biscay to be designated as an Important Marine Mammal Area and this project will produce detailed information for this specific species, providing policymakers with the information they need to take appropriate conservation action.

Final Summary

Beaked Whale Study – Final Summary

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