SAMS news room

#WhaleTalk campaign engages Edinburgh audience

Prof Ben Wilson addressing the audience at 'Scotland: Europe's Whale Watcher', held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh
Prof Ben Wilson addressing the audience at 'Scotland: Europe's Whale Watcher', held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh

SAMS’ expertise in marine mammal research was highlighted in Edinburgh as an audience of MSPs, policy advisers and industry and third sector representatives attended ‘Scotland: Europe’s Whale Watcher’.

The evening event, jointly organised by SAMS and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), was held in the RSE buildings in Edinburgh’s city centre on 23rd April and featured presentations on how Scotland was becoming a European leader on marine mammal monitoring and research.

Following opening remarks by RSE General Secretary Prof Michael Keating, SAMS Chair and RSE Fellow Diana Murray introduced the four speakers: Dr Denise Risch (SAMS), Prof Peter Tyack (University of St Andrews), Alison Lomax (Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust) and Susannah Calderan (SAMS).

The speakers explored how Scotland, through its research community, citizen science, NGOs and wildlife charities, has organically created a combined expertise in marine mammal research and monitoring that would be the envy of many larger nations. Collaborative efforts are beginning to form which bring together local knowledge and cutting-edge scientific discovery, complemented by exciting new uses of artificial intelligence.

However, this ecosystem of like-minded individuals requires support and a commitment to long-term monitoring of marine mammals if the nation is to truly regard itself as the European leader in this field.

Prof Ben Wilson, who heads up the marine mammals research at SAMS and also attended the event, said: “By harnessing our collective expertise, we can better understand cetacean behaviours, migrations and populations, as well as environmental impacts caused by climate change. This knowledge directly influences key government policy areas such as environment, Marine Protected Areas, renewable energy, tourism, shipping and fishing.

“I believe Scottish research in this area stands out in a global context and we have been quick to adopt advances in technology, such as using AI, to help identify certain marine mammal sounds from long-term recordings.

“We are also fortunate in Scotland to have a large and well-connected citizen science effort in marine mammal monitoring. Meanwhile, there are on-going collaborative efforts between scientists, NGOs, and the commercial sector to find solutions to difficult conservation issues such as marine mammal and fisheries interactions.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to partner with the RSE, which has supported our science in the past and continues to promote the best of Scottish research.”

The event was part of the SAMS’ #WhaleTalk campaign, which aims to highlight the marine mammal research underway at SAMS. As well as engagement with policy and academia, the campaign has had a large outreach element, teaching members of the public about the variety of whales and dolphins in Scottish seas.