Innovative app to transform cetacean citizen science in the Hebrides
Killer whales © HWDT
A new app from conservation charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is set to transform the way that members of the public and boat operators can help gather vital scientific data about whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – off Scotland's west coast.
Whale Track provides an easy and quick way for anyone to report and submit their sightings of these species from across the Hebrides, and has been made possible by a grant of more than £79,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The initiative has the backing of television presenter, wild animal biologist and biochemist Liz Bonnin, Patron of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.
“Encouraging the public to play a very real part in the protection of their local wildlife is essential if we are going to have any chance of safeguarding it for the future,” said Liz.
“Thanks to great advances in technology, the Whale Track app will allow everyone to contribute to research, no matter how remote their location – even if they are out of network or wifi coverage. It's an exciting prospect, and a very positive step towards protecting this magnificent part of the planet.”
Whale Track is designed to work at sea and in remote coastal communities where there is often no cellular coverage – allowing boat operators, fishermen and other seafarers to get involved, while coastal communities can report their sightings from land.
All data collected by the app feeds into a web portal, allowing anyone to interact with this information – including by exploring recent sightings, generating sightings maps and discovering top-reported species. Registered users can keep a record of what they have seen and when, and add photographs. The app also includes a species identification guide.
Dr. Lauren Hartny-Mills, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust's Science Officer, said: “Whale Track is an exciting innovation that will help gather crucial data to improve our understanding of local species of cetaceans – especially coastal species such as bottlenose dolphins and rarer ones including killer whales and humpback whales – and to inform policies to safeguard them.
“By using the technology most of us carry around in our pockets, Whale Track makes recording and submitting sightings of marine megafauna more convenient and accessible to everyone. This is important in an area that is difficult to monitor due to the nature of the remote coastline.”
Whale Track has been developed by mobile app company Natural Apptitude. The app is a development of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust's Community Sightings Network, which encourages local communities, wildlife tour operators and visitors to the area to report marine wildlife sightings.
Lucy Casot, Head of HLF Scotland, said: “Our Natural Heritage is a most precious resource and thanks to National Lottery players, Heritage Lottery Fund grants have helped to protect an amazing range of landscapes, habitats and species of plants and animals. HLF is delighted to support the Whale Track app that will stimulate people's interest in the marine wildlife along Scotland's west coast and so help them conserve it for future generations.”
Lauren Hartny-Mills said: “We really hope that Whale Track will inspire lots of people to get involved and enjoy being citizen scientists! Anyone can download the app for free from the App Store and Google Play, and take advantage of this new opportunity to discover more about the west coast of Scotland's stunning and world-class wildlife.”
Western Scotland's seas are one of Europe's most important cetacean habitats. So far 24 of the world's estimated 92 cetacean species have been recorded in the region.