School children are being urged to care for the “forgotten whales and dolphins” of the North Sea as part of a new conservation initiative.
The Your Seas project is a joint scheme run by whale and dolphin conservation charity ORCA in partnership with DFDS Seaways and will see a community outreach officer working with schools and other groups across the region.
Due to be officially launched tomorrow (February 22) at DFDS Seaways’ headquarters at North Shields, the project has been made possible thanks to a £40,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Local Environmental Action Fund at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.
It will work with local communities and young people to make a positive impact on the marine environment by inspiring a new generation to change their behavior and think about the plight of the North Sea’s whales and dolphins.
As part of the project, ORCA community engagement officer, Alison Lomax, who is based in DFDS Seaways’ North Shields base, will visit schools to deliver Dolphin Science workshops focusing on the biology and behaviour of these wonderful mammals and encourage youngsters to take an active part in the conservation of their local environment.
The interactive presentations include the chance to examine marine mammal skulls, teeth and baleen to highlight feeding and communication strategies and links with the National Curriculum KS1 and KS2.
The project will also offer school children the chance to visit the wildlife centre on board cruise ferry King Seaways to become Dolphin Scientists for the day.
Alison says: “Very few people are aware that whales and dolphins live right here on our door step in the North Sea. In fact, North East waters are rich and diverse, and home to a staggering number of whale and dolphin species.
“The most commonly sighted are the harbour porpoise, white beaked dolphin and minke whale. However, sightings of more rare species such as humpback whales and killer whales have also been recorded along the North East coast.
“Populations of whales and dolphins in the North Sea are becoming severely impacted by human activities such as accidental capture in fishing nets, marine litter and the impact of climate change and we need the help of local communities to protect them.
“The Your Seas project will give young people the chance to learn more about their shared natural heritage and take on an active role in the protection of our seas – this project really is conservation in action.”
The wider community will be encouraged to get involved by training to become Marine Mammal surveyors, recording wildlife on DFDS Seaways’ Newcastle to Amsterdam route between May and September 2012.
Volunteers will need to complete the Marine Mammal Survey (MMS) training course run by ORCA. In return for becoming a survey volunteer, DFDS Seaways will provide free travel on the route for the purpose of the Marine Mammal Survey.
Community and youth groups can also get involved by booking Alison to give a Dolphin Science talk for their members or by visiting one of the many events that Orca will be attending across the North East this year.
Stephen House, head of product at DFDS Seaways, says: “As a business we feel that it is important to protect the environment in which you operate. As such, we have been working with ORCA for several years to raise awareness of the fascinating and diverse marine life that can be found in the North Sea through our Wildlife Watching and surveying activites onboard.
“We are pleased to be able to take that commitment one step further with the launch of the Your Seas project, providing a venue and the means to involve local schools and the wider community in protecting the marine life which is right on our doorstep.”
In addition to the Your Seas project, DFDS Seaways is funding the appointment of two wildlife officers on board cruise ferry King Seaways so passengers can learn about the marine wildlife of the North Sea and participate in fun activities and deck watches.
Common wildlife to spot en route includes dolphins, harbour porpoise, gannets and many other sea birds plus even occasionally minke whales. Passengers can either book the dedicated Wildlife Watching mini cruise to Amsterdam or just join in the activities for free.
The wildlife watching activities run on board King Seaways between late March and mid-September.
Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, addss: “We have some wonderful native wildlife in the North East and it is the possibility of catching a glimpse of whales and dolphins that adds to the attraction of our stunning shores.
“This project will give people, especially young people, the opportunity to learn more about our vast and varied sea-life and give them the chance to help protect it for future generations to enjoy.”
Schools interested in taking part in Dolphin Science workshops or members of the community looking to get involved should contact Alison Lomax on 0191 2936202 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.