Skip to main content

UWTV Marine Mammal Observer – a pilot project

This project proposal looked for funding to cover the costs of a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) on an Underwater Television (UWTV) survey of nine days in August 2022 and 2023. This was the first time an UWTV survey was conducted on a Research Vessel with enough on-board space to accommodate an MMO and necessary scientific complement. UWTV surveys lend themselves well to MMO operations owing to their standardised operations in defined areas.
The project was intended as a pilot trial, to enable a review of the process on the R.V. Tom Crean and with UWTV operations, with the intention of rolling out into a multiple-year project.
There is a lack of information on offshore habitat and habitat use of marine mammals. A minimal number of surveys of any sort take place in these areas and the identified surveys are amongst the few opportunities to collect information on the relevant species found in these areas. Dedicated surveys, at much increased costs, would otherwise be required. Where dedicated surveys are required or are in the planning stage (e.g. SCANS IV), data from this project will provide information on where to focus effort for particular species/abundances.

Data collected, along with the collection of oceanographic and other biological information, will contribute to the conversion of these surveys from single-target surveys to true ecosystems programmes. Marine Mammal data was also supplied to NPWS as a contribution to fulfil Ireland’s obligations to monitor marine mammal populations under the Habitats Directive
Since 2002 the Marine Institute have carried out Underwater Television (UWTV) surveys of the Aran Nephrops Grounds, extending this in 2006 into the Celtic Sea Nephrops grounds which includes two primary areas, the “Smalls” and the “Labadie, Cockburn and Jones Banks”.
UWTV Surveys, broken into three survey legs, now cover 5 Functional units, FU16 (Porcupine Bank), FU17 (Aran Grounds, Galway Bay & Slyne Head), FU19 (SW and SE Coast), FU20-21 (Labadie, Jones & Cockburn) and FU22 (The Smalls; Figure 1). The exact area in which the survey takes place is weather dependent and will operate either in the Celtic Sea, or west of Ireland behind tea ran Islands and over the Porcupine bank.
The primary purpose of these surveys is to ascertain the annual status of the Nephrops stocks to produce ICES catch advice for each FU. However, the nature of UWTV surveys is well aligned with the monitoring of marine mammals. Operations are conducted over defined spatial areas, following standard vessel sailing procedures, with time spent on standard transects, and traversing between survey stations. The RV Tom Crean has been designed for Marine Mammal data collection, with a purpose-built observation platform above the bridge.
There is an established MMO programme on MI acoustic surveys. These data, as well as the continued collection of oceanographic and other biological information, have contributed to the conversion of these surveys from single-target surveys to true ecosystem programmes. Marine Mammal data from these surveys are supplied to NPWS as a contribution to fulfil Ireland’s obligations to monitor marine mammal populations under the Habitats Directive. They have also been supplied to other state agencies and bodies and appropriate NGOs on request. Data are also made publically available after appropriate quality checks have been made.
To date MMOs have not been taken on UWTV operations owing to the limited staffing levels on the Research Vessel Celtic Voyager. The survey is now transferring on to the R.V. Tom Crean, which can accommodate a larger scientific complement.


The survey and reporting for this project will from August to October 2022

Project Outputs:

1. A preliminary report submitted to the MI at the end of survey, summarising all sightings, for use in the survey report. Data from this will be included in the survey report that is made available through the OAR system
2. A complete report submitted six weeks after survey end. This will include a full analysis (count, location, identification) of effort and sightings.
3. A data package complying with NPWS data-reporting templates and standards. This will include all sightings raw data, observer effort data, data analysis and shape-files mapping the appropriate data.
4. A package containing all photographs taken during each survey for identification validation purposes.

Expected Benefit:

1. The project will help meet Ireland’s data reporting requirements under the Habitats directive for seabirds and Marine Mammals. Specifically, the data collected will provide necessary information for:
2. Validated data available to stakeholders for use in MSFD, MPA and other national considerations.
3. Review of the method of MMO data collection on the R.V. Tom Crean with UWTV operations, with the intention of rolling out into a multiple-year project in collaboration
with the current EMFAF Ecosystem data collection on Irish fisheries surveys in support of MSFD, Natura and Habitat mapping.
4. A long term time-series of marine mammal, seabird and other marine fauna sightings and effort data that can contribute to national and international datasets on population, structure and habitat use. In particular, offshore data that cannot otherwise be surveyed, will be collected and validated.
5. To allow oceanographic and information from the complete ecosystem to be analysed, not just a single-stock assessment. Information will be available from planktonic to top-predator level.
6. Long-term funding of this project will potentially allow changes in populations to be monitored, a metric required under climate change. This objective will be reviewed along with the progress of the EMFAF funded Ecosystem Observers project.

Data will be used by the Marine Institute and National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The data collected are value for money as they use existing systems for data collection and providing added-value to existing surveys. The only costs are paying for two additional observers per survey. The actual, substantial, survey costs are already covered under the DCF. The costs of dedicated surveys to collect this information would be prohibitive. Dedicated single surveys have the disadvantage of not collecting the environmental, oceanographic and fisheries data available on a research platform such as the RV Celtic Explorer. This survey will be a multi-disciplinary trip.
A major benefit will be to the Marine Institute, enhancing our surveys and providing an holistic multi-disciplinary survey series, supporting provision of data and advice to our stakeholders.

Further Information:
Contact: Jonathon White,
Project Cost - Projected:
Project Status: