Since October 2016, Caroline has worked as the Sei Whale Project Officer for Falklands Conservation (FC), implementing an EU BEST 2.0 Small Grants project titled “Developing a site-based conservation approach for sei whales Balaenoptera borealis at Berkeley Sound, Falkland Islands.” The project aimed to investigate the distribution, population size and ecology of sei whales at Berkeley Sound in East Falkland. Sei whales are currently classified as globally endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to heavy exploitation by commercial whaling operations. However, little is understood about this species due to its occurrence in predominantly offshore habitats and its unpredictable occurrence between years.
In the Falkland Islands, sei whales have been increasingly observed in coastal waters since the 1990s, providing a rare opportunity to collect field data on the species. The work carried out by FC during the 2017 season included distribution surveys using shore, boat and aerial methods, an aerial abundance feasibility survey, boat-based photo-identification work, behavioural studies, and the collection of faecal samples to investigate diet. Funding from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) also allowed the collection of some genetic samples that may help to better understand the population structure of Southern Hemisphere sei whales. The photo-identification data will produce an estimate of the number of whales using the study site, and will be used to examine the social affiliations and movements of individual whales.
The work has provided the first systematic information on the spatio-temporal distribution and abundance of endangered sei whales in the Falkland Islands, emphasising the importance of Berkeley Sound for this species. Outputs, including scientific papers, will be reported here as they are finalised. A number of management recommendations have been made to decision-makers with a view to minimising the potential impacts of human activities on sei whales in the Falklands.
For more information about Falklands Conservation please visit the Falklands Conservation website