Monitoring Harbour porpoises off North-Antrim Coast

17th Oct 2016

The IWDG have deployed Static Acoustic monitoring devices off the North-Antrim coast in the Skerries and Causeway SAC to monitor the presence and behaviour of harbour porpoises. The funding for this project was awarded to the IWDG by the DAERA Environment Fund and is supported by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast.

The Skerries and Causeway SAC is off the North Antrim coast, Figure 1 is a map showing the boundaries of this SAC












Figure 1. Map of boundary of Skerries SAC.

Harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphin are frequently seen in these waters. They are a Northern Ireland priority species and are also protected by EU law. Harbour porpoise are a qualifying feature of this SAC, which means it is designated to protect this species, and it is essntial to understand how porpoise use this site.  splash





Figure 2. Harbour porpoise               Bottlenose dolphin      photo Gary Burrows               

Static Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) is a very useful tool, it allows the area to be continuously monitored. SAM is also very helpful for studying the highly elusive harbour porpoise, which can be very difficult to observe in even moderate sea conditions !  The CPOD devices are static devices that are attached to the sea floor and record the high frequency clicks of harbour porpoise and will also record the clicks of dolphins.







Figure 4. Our lovely CPOD devices ready to go in the sea for calibration

The project aims to investigate the patterns of occurrence of harbour porpoise and other echolocating cetaceans and to look at habitat use within the SAC, for example foraging activity. Another thing we could potentially look at is the relationship between dolphins and porpoises, for example when the bottlenose dolphins appear do the harbour porpoises clear off? As part of this project we are also hoping to compare acoustic detections with visual land based detections to see how representative the visual surveys are of the more offshore area that we can’t see through our binoculars or scope!

There is so much we can do with this data and we are really excited that the project is underway!


by Cathy Hinds

IWDG Northern Ireland Officer

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