Oban, 30 July 2014 -- For centuries, marine mammals have stranded on the shore and data now show that about 400 of these animals strand on Scotland’s coastline every year, but the reasons why are not always clear.
Scotland’s waters are home to over 20 species of marine mammals and the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) investigates stranding cases. It collects, collates and analyses information gleaned from stranded marine mammals, turtles and basking sharks in a systematic and coordinated way. In many cases this information can help determine the cause of death and also gives an idea of what species can be found in Scottish waters.
Tomorrow (Thursday July 31st) SAMS is hosting a seminar and a workshop on the work and findings of the strandings scheme. The seminar will be given by Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of SMASS and a vet at the Scottish Agricultural College in Inverness, in collaboration with Dr Conor Ryan of Tobermory-based Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.
The two experts will explain how post-mortem exams on stranded carcases reveal much about the cause of death, its general health, biology, ecology and environmental contaminant levels: details that are difficult to gather in any other way. Such baseline data are useful to detect future outbreaks of disease, unusual mortality events or responses to environmental change, like climate change.
Scotland’s coastline is long and there are many remote and lightly populated areas, which make SMASS’s task particularly hard. Consequently the scheme is setting up a network of specially trained volunteers around Scotland. After Thursday’s seminar Dr Brownlow will be training a small group of volunteers on correct sampling procedures and on what information to collect from dead stranded animals to make sure sampling is consistent across the network. Subsequently, trained volunteers may be needed to photograph or sample dead stranded marine mammals.
A trained volunteer’s assessment, photographs, and a few samples can help the SMASS team a lot and, in the first instance, can indicate whether an expert should travel to see the animal remains. Overall, the information gathered can help identify substantial new threats to a species’ conservation status. It also helps ensure the UK complies with a number of national and international agreements and obligations, including the Habitats Directive and the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Sea (ASCOBANS).
The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme project was set up in 1992, led by SRUC, funded by Marine Scotland and supported by National Museums Scotland. All dead strandings should be reported to the scheme.
The seminar, the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme, will be held at SAMS on Thursday July 31st from 12-1pm. For more information, click here