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International Women's Day

Unmasking the wolves, campaigning for a brighter future whilst conserving the porpoises and seals of Tor Bay. Meet some of the women in South Devon making a difference to World.

For last year’s International Women’s Day, we celebrated some of the leading icons of the environmental movement; Dr Jane Goodall, Greta Thunberg and Sylvia Earle. For 2020 we wanted to focus on some of the inspirational women making a difference in our local area, starting with Sarah who talks about ‘Her World and The Seal Project’.

Sarah Greenslade, co-founder and Trustee of The Seal Project.

The Seal Project was created by two virtual strangers – they met because they were both British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) Marine Mammal Medics, who decided the number of seals visiting and resting in Brixham and the surrounding areas needed more regular monitoring.

The Seal Project was born out of this shared desire and mutual passion, after lots of hard work the project has recently become a small charity! We asked Sarah about her background and the Seal Project:

My work with the Seal Project is all voluntary and I absolutely love it. There really aren’t enough hours in the day. My day job (working in accounts for a window company) really gets in the way! I knew nothing about grey seals or even common seals, until I unexpectedly ended up rescuing what was a common seal pup from Shoalstone Sea Water Pool a few years ago. It was early in the morning. No one wanted to respond, and I’d never heard of the ‘BDMLR’. Anyway, through this experience, I became a Marine Mammal Medic. My first call out being the speared seal in Brixham. I spent weeks following her around the bay – but she was eventually seen without the spear & she is alive and well and still frequently seen in Brixham. Duncan Kenny and I had met briefly on a few occasions as he’s also a BDMLR Medic and I’d participated in beach cleans with Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative, which Duncan is also part of. From this we discussed starting up a project – which we did last January [2019] – and it’s been amazing. We had ideas but it all went a bit crazy. Within a year we have presented to a wide variety of audiences. We’ve held talks at Fishcombe Cove Café, Brixham Yacht Club, Breakwater Bistro, Exeter University Sub Aqua Dive Club, Ibex Canoe Club, twice at a Torbay primary school, we have four Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award students working with us. We have a 6th form talk, Cubs, Scouts, Brixham College and more talks at Fishcombe Cove Café already booked for 2020. I’ve probably missed plenty off!

We now have a crew of 9 - Myself, Duncan, Lee, Jill, Margaret & the DofE students. We are very lucky to have funds being raised for our charity & Shoalstone Sea Water Pool by the 365 Sea Swim Challenge boys. This is amazing and the irony of how I started into the world of seals isn’t lost on me! The exhilaration of swimming in the sea throughout the winter months is something else!! I had been doing seal identifications for the Seal Research Trust (formerly Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust) for a couple of years> I’ve named many new seals and re-identified return visitors, such as Crinkle (BRX70)– who decided to rest on Churston Cove beach a few weeks ago(regardless of the public and dogs passing by). We monitored him until he was happy to move on. This then happened again a week later with a much smaller 2 months old seal, who we’ve named “Christie” who again, just needed to rest. Eight hours of monitoring between us and off she went! Beautiful.

Money can’t buy these moments. I’m no expert, I have no scientific background whatsoever – I just love the seals and want to do all I can to protect them and educate people. I’d never done public speaking before – but I’m getting the hang of it now! I often feel I’ve not worked out who or what I want to be yet, or that I play a part in anything significant - until now. I just want to do Seal Project ‘stuff’ as much as I can! I walk around with a weight of a camera on my back, taking literally thousands of photos and I’m out in all weathers watching the wildlife. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have lots planned for the coming year & collaborating with Operation Cetacean is just a part of that. It’s going to be amazing!’

Speaking of ‘Operation Cetacean’ we also caught up with some of their team.

Operation Cetacean is a team of researchers who focus their work on trying to better understand and conserve the Harbour Porpoise in and around the Torbay Marine Conservation Zone.

Meet the team

Laura Roberts (Founder and Lead Researcher)

Laura began researching the harbour porpoises of Berry Head in 2017 whilst completing her FdSc Animal Science degree. Since discovering some interesting results during a university project, Laura decided to make it her life's mission to learn as much as possible about the porpoises of Berry Head so that they may be better protected. Since then, Laura has completed a BSc Hons in Animal Conservation Science, has had her research published in the Ocean and Coastal Management journal and has formed a group of passionate and dedicated volunteers to assist her with a variety of projects.

When asked about Operation Cetacean Laura said; "Studying the harbour porpoises of Berry Head is my passion and obsession. All cetaceans are impacted by a myriad of threats and this particular species needs our help more than ever."

Kiera Assistant Researcher and Advocate

Kiera is currently studying Ocean Science and Marine Conservation at the University of Plymouth with the aim of undertaking a Marine Science Master’s Degree once graduated. She has had a strong passion for ocean conservation from an early age and has a keen interest in conservation.

Keira volunteers as a Marine Mammal Medic for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, Marine Mammal Surveyor for ORCA and is a Clean-up Leader for Ocean Mimic. She organizes regular beach cleans in and around Plymouth and the Isle of Wight, with the goal of reducing the volumes of plastic waste polluting our coastlines.

We asked Kiera how she got involved in marine conservation and what her future aims are; “I grew up on the Isle of Wight and spent most of my days at the beach looking for shells and studying different rocky shore species. I have always known that our oceans need protecting and before coming to University I wasn’t completely sure how I could help and make a difference. My future goal is to work directly with the conservation of cetaceans (particularly Orca)”.

Hollie London (Assistant Researcher and Advocate)

Hollie is a 3rd year student studying BSc (Hons) Ocean Science and Marine Conservation – University of Plymouth, she provided us an overview of her dissertation research.

“As part of my dissertation research, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend 3 months on-board “Voyager”, a responsible whale-watching vessel based in Baltimore, West Cork, Ireland. I worked alongside Dr Nicholas Slocum from Whale Watch West Cork, mapping the distribution of cetaceans in local coastal waters. During the summer months, Irish waters become home to a range of feeding cetaceans, including odontocetes (toothed whales) such as short-beaked common dolphin and mysticetes (baleen whales) such as fin whales and minke whales.

One part of my research involved the photo-identification of minke whales – something that had not been attempted in Irish waters previously. Photo-identification uses photography to document unique markings such as dorsal or tail (fluke) shape, pigmentation patterns, deformities and rake marks (tooth marks from other cetaceans), to identify individual cetaceans in the same way humans can be identified by fingerprints. During my time in West Cork, I was able to identify 8 individual minke whales from both sides of their dorsal fin, with 2 repeat sightings.

Another part of my research was recording water properties such as the temperature and salinity of the water during cetacean sightings. Different water masses will have different temperatures or salinity, meaning they do not mix together. At the boundaries between these water masses, a process can occur known as upwelling. Upwelling can bring nutrients to the surface of the water, leading to plankton growth and the aggregation of prey. By understanding where these nutrients ‘hotspots’ are, it can help us to understand how cetaceans use West Cork for foraging and feeding. This can provide evidence for the implementation of conservation and protection strategies where necessary”.

Leah Freshwater (Assistant Researcher and Advocate)

Leah graduated from the University of Plymouth with a degree in animal conservation science and had her first experience in cetacean research in 2016 when she went to Tenerife to volunteer with Frontier, to study pilot whales. This experience solidified her desire to be involved in the field of cetology. Since then she has become a Marine Mammal Surveyor with ORCA and has been on several trips with the organization over the last two years. Earlier in 2019, she spent two months in West Wales interning with the Sea Watch Foundation. This entailed researching the local population of bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay.

Leah stated; "I have had a lifelong obsession with the ocean and marine mammals, and always knew that I wanted to work in marine conservation. I am now a proud member of Operation Cetacean and I am loving it so far. I'm excited to see what the future holds for this project!"

Amanda Brown (Assistant Researcher and Advocate)

An Early Years Educator has a degree in Natural Sciences and previously worked for 10 years as an aquatic Ecotoxicologist. She came across Operation Cetacean whilst searching for local Citizen Science projects. She joined the team to assist in the collection of land-based survey data and found a group of like-minded individuals with a passion for conservation.

Amanda stated “Operation Cetacean has given me a chance to become involved in the field of Science again. Marine conservation has always been a passion of mine, since a very young age. I currently work with Preschool age children, and one of the key things I want to focus on is the transmission of this knowledge to the younger generations. Education outreach is vital to conservation in the long-term. There is so much to learn about the species that frequent our local waters. I’m proud to be part of this learning”.

Lucy Mortimer (School Climate Campaigner)

We agree with Amanda and share her passion for Education and inspiring the younger generations. We are proud to see so many passionate young people in our local area who quite frankly inspire us. With this in mind we invited Lucy Mortimer to contribute to our blog and asked her why she is fighting for a greener future. Here is what she had to say about the changes she is making;

‘As I stare down at the Quorn sausage, I insisted upon eating, instead of the mouth-watering, fatty, meat sausages the rest of my family stuffs their faces with; the Quorn sausage that tastes like ground mushrooms and fish; the Quorn sausage that contaminates my Heinz beans and free-range organic scrambled eggs, I think: this sucks.

And not only does it suck that I can’t, I won’t, I shouldn’t eat sausages in a fry up, eat them in a bun at a mid-summer barbecue or have them with mashed potatoes, it stinks. It stinks that I can’t have a cheeky McDonalds big mac or enjoy a crispy bacon sandwich on a sunny Saturday morning. It sucks to be a vegetarian.

But I have to.

I have to be as organic as possible, I have to wear second-hand charity-shop clothes, I have to go on strike on Fridays, not because I want to. No. Because I have to. Because, if I want a future where my children don’t choke on the poisonous fumes of their grandparents’ mistakes, if I want a future where I can focus on being a child, if I want a future where I don’t drown in my own guilt because I didn’t save mother earth, I have to act now’.

We salute you!

Our final feature is Abbie Woodbridge, founder and director of Lupine Media.

Abbie is passionate about animals and the environment and strives to make a difference in her everyday life. Lupine Media is production company that specializes in animal conservation and finding resolution to global issues. Her latest project is the upcoming documentary "Wolves Unmasked". This documentary focuses on our perception of wolves, environmental degradation, and the message wolves are trying to deliver to humanity through what they represent within the context of the environment. This message is summed up in the words of Chief Geswanouth Slahoot of the Sleil-Waututh Nation:

If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.

Conservation Chat UK aims to engage with as many people as possible, in as many ways of possible. We are proud to have linked with so many people who are making a difference through direct action, research and the power of film. You can find out more by searching for; ‘The Seal Project’, ‘Operation Cetacean’, ‘Fridays for Futures’ and ‘Lupine Media’ on Facebook.

Lupine Media will be joining us in Torquay 4th May.

Operation Cetacean and The Seal Project will be joining us in Torquay 8thJune.


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