June 28, 2005

British University to Conduct Major Whale Survey

LONDON (AP) -- A British university on Tuesday announced plans for what it called the largest international survey of whales, dolphins and porpoises on the European Atlantic continental shelf.

Seven ships and three aircraft will be used in the survey by the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

They will conduct an intensive survey of the European Atlantic continental shelf to map the distribution and estimate the abundance of cetaceans.

The survey, involving researchers from throughout western Europe, is part of the SCANS-II project, an acronym for Small Cetaceans of the European Atlantic and North Sea, supported by the European Commission LIFE Nature program and 12 European governments.

Officials say the research is necessary to assess the sustainability of cetacean stocks. Large numbers are killed accidentally in fishing gear every year, also known as bycatch.

"This is an extremely important survey to assess the sizes of populations in European waters," said Kelly Macleod, one of the survey members.

"Never has there been such a large scale survey in these waters - it's a huge undertaking. The information is crucial in assessing the impact of bycatch on porpoises and dolphins."

SCANS-II also hopes to develop cost effective monitoring methods for cetaceans, assess the numbers lost to bycatch and limit the bycatch.

Researchers will use radar and acoustic equipment to determine the numbers of the different species of cetaceans in European Atlantic waters.

This will be compared with numbers obtained from a similar survey called SCANS, which was conducted in 1994.

The results are expected by the middle of 2006.