All cetaceans and seals have been routinely recorded on all offshore surveys, even those primarily targeted at seabirds, by staff that are also trained Marine Mammal Observers. Collectively, our staff have at-sea familiarity with virtually all species recorded in the European Atlantic and North Sea thereby ensuring a very high level of species identification.
Virtually all of our surveys conducted for the offshore wind farm industry including at eight Round 1 and 2 sites around the English coast, one Scottish Territorial Waters site and for three Round 3 zones, also required marine mammals to be recorded and identified. On two Round 3 zones we also worked on a double-platform system alongside further independent marine mammal observers, who were also collecting data with Passive Acoustic Monitoring systems (PAMs). The data was subsequently integrated to provide a clear picture of the abundance and distribution of mammals in the area of interest. We can link with trusted specialist operators of PAMs or buoy-mounted recording systems (T-pods and C-pods) should these also be required in a survey campaign.
Whilst we follow standard JNCC recording guidelines, we have also routinely employed the sampling protocol for birds in order to provide accurate locations for marine mammals and ultimately enable density and population size to be determined using DISTANCE sampling. The quality of our visual observations over the longer term recently helped one of our long-standing clients demonstrate an increase in both Harbour and Grey seals during the operational phase of a wind farm and the recovery of Harbour porpoise after initial displacement during noisy construction. Our report proved to be very important in ensuring Marine License conditions were met.
As for seabird surveys, we are highly experienced in planning and successfully implementing marine projects, having chartered a number of vessels around the UK. Staff ensure that all elements of offshore projects run smoothly from management of health and safety requirements to weather forecasting to liaison with boat skippers and clients. All our staff All staff have appropriate offshore medical and sea survival certification and have spent considerable time working at sea.
We also have a specific interest in seals, especially in our home waters around Norfolk, and have carried out work on a number of the seal colonies local to the region. This also included the in-depth analysis of aerial surveys of haul-out counts over five years at Scroby Sands. This is one of the few studies to demonstrate the different sensitivity of Grey Seal and Harbour Seal to pile-driving activity and boat traffic associated with construction when hauled-out. In effect, the numbers of Harbour Seals breeding on the sandbanks in the area had not completely recovered three years after construction.
On a mainland beach in Norfolk, we were also contracted by the Environment Agency to act as a 'watching brief' to engineers by monitoring breeding Grey seals in relation to the replacement of several groynes and associated beach works. Surveys of numbers of seals were accompanied by detailed behavioural observations. The effects of disturbance of construction and movements of vehicles and contract staff in comparison to the general public were continuously assessed, and through communication, effective measures to minimise disturbance were developed. This included changes in access points and transport routes to construction areas.