In 2008, MARINElife joined a group of Europe's leading marine conservation and research organisations to carry out further crucial research into some of the rarest and most elusive marine animals on the planet - beaked whales. The research programme, called "Diver 2008", commenced on the 28th June and ran for a month off the northern coast of Spain, within the Bay of Biscay - an area renowned for sightings of these mysterious marine mammals. The programme is named after this group of animals deep diving ability, and follows on from a successful first Diver project in 2006, which established an important research baseline.
Beaked whales are a group of 21 whale species, characterised by their distinctive beaks. They are primarily found in offshore deep water canyons and as such are rarely within easy reach of researchers and whale watching enthusiasts, making them little studied. However, the northern Spanish coast has a number of these deep water canyons within 20km of the coast and past survey work by the Diver 2008 researchers from commercial ferries, has highlighted the importance of these canyons for a number of beaked whale species, including Cuvier's beaked whale, Sowerby's beaked whale and Northern Bottlenose whale.
This research is important because beaked whales are known to be very sensitive to certain sub-sea noise and there have been numerous cases of mass stranding of these animals which have been linked to concurrent use of military sonar. Through the Diver project, the researchers aim to generate the scientific evidence that will help underpin future conservation measures for these vulnerable animals, including advice on the impact noise pollution can have in certain areas of our ocean which can "appear" empty and far from shore.
The data collected through Diver 2008, has been added to the knowledge base on beaked whales developed by MARINElife, AMBAR and ORCA obtained through surveys on commercial ferries in the region. All three groups share this data and collaborate with other ferry researchers, through the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC).