N. Ireland Politics

NI scientists to monitor whale songs and dolphin chatter

Yellow buoy at sea
Image caption Large marine buoys relay information to the scientists, the money for the project came from the EU's cross border Interreg VA programme

Scientists plan to eavesdrop on whales and dolphins as part of a new plan to protect sea mammals and marine environments.

Almost £6m has been set aside for the project which will be centred on the Irish and Scottish coasts.

It is being led by scientists from Northern Ireland's Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

They are developing a network of marine monitoring devices.

Image caption RV Corsytes is AFBI's research ship

The scientists will be able to record whale and dolphin chatter, allowing them to identify numbers and species in the water.

The technology will also enable them to assess whether noise from commercial fishing, or other marine industry affects them.

Image caption Dr Mellor: 'Noise can cause pain to sea mammals'

Dr Adam Mellor of AFBI says noise can have a big impact on sea mammals:

"Displacement from noise is a very real effect and....if it doesn't cause them to move will change their behaviours and, at the most acute levels, can cause physical and physiological damage to the animals."

Image caption Monitoring equipment stands ready for deployment

As well as assessing the environment for marine mammals, scientists hope to learn much more about the salmon and sea trout which spawn in our rivers.

Very little is known about what happens to them, or where they go when they return to the open seas.

Image caption Complex equipment is prepared onshore

Some are to be caught, fitted with trackers and followed to try to help scientists fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Bigger marine buoys with complex equipment slung underneath will also be used to assess the state of the oceanic climate and its impact on underwater habitats, plants and animals.

More on this story