Tuesday, 23 July 2013

School Visit - Dolphin Rescue with a Difference

On many occasions I have taken my life sized inflatable dolphin to schools and events to raise awareness about local dolphins and teach about these amazing sea mammals. As you will have seen from an earlier post, this usually takes place on the school playing field or inside the school hall.


However, this time I was able to run the session on the beach at the West Beach Local Nature Reserve near Littlehampton.

The session started with some photographs of local dolphin and seal sightings and some background information. These are real sightings taken from my voluntary work as Sussex Regional Coordinator for Sea Watch Foundation and Sussex County Recorder for Sea Mammals.

The children then learned some basic sea mammal biology and the special adaptations that allow sea mammals to live in the sea.

We then discussed the problems that a stranded dolphin might encounter and what we would need to do to counter these affects. The two major problems being the affects of gravity as the dolphin is no longer supported by the ocean and the danger of heat exhaustion. We also discussed other problems such as stress from the pubic, dogs, sea gulls and other sources.

The children were divided into two group and given some props which included some buckets, a towel and other beach items which they could use to plan their rescue.
The scenario the children were presented with was that this bottlenose dolphin had become stranded on the beach. How can we keep it alive, provide first aid and return the dolphin to the sea.

Here are a few pics from the rescue
First job, check the dolphin is breathing and continue monitoring breathing as it is a good indication of the state of the dolphin. Some children kept the public (teachers) at a safe distance. One of the teachers ad-libbed a very persistent but well meaning member of the public.

Digging sand away to alleviate the crushing affects of gravity on its internal organs and flippers

Next, a steady supply of  water to keep the dolphin cool (but be careful of the blowhole).
The children also dug holes around the flippers which they could fill with water - dolphins loose heat more easily in these locations.
Unlike the children in the classroom activity, doing it for real adds a whole new dimension. For example, these children discovered how tipping water on the dolphin washed the sand back around the dolphin, so digging was a constant need.
One child took on the roll of comforting the dolphin. Having taken part in a few rescues, I have witnessed first hand the affects that a single person talking softly and caressing the dolphin can have on its wellbeing - it can bring a stressed rapid breathing rate to a more calm breathing rate.
Lastly, getting the dolphin from the beach to the sea. The tide was on its way out and the children decided it was too long to wait for the tide to return,.
So they carried the dolphin to the sea where they walked it around until it was okay to swim on its own.
We then undertook a debrief (as if it were a real rescue) and each group discussed how well they thought their rescue went, how well they worked as a team, things they did well, things that did not go to plan etc. Both groups did fantastically well and com completely embraced the spirit of the activity.
After lunch we explored the tide pools and found various fish, shrimps, crabs, sea anemones and this sea slater ( a relative of the woodlouse)

We finished the day with a measuring activity to appreciate the size of a blue whale - by measuring out the length on the sand. The children had various activity cards with other animals and their sizes (including common seal, basking shark, humpback whale) to find their place on the line to compare their size to a blue whale. Again, an activity that I usually run on the school playing field.
We discussed the size of a blue whale (30m) and how the ocean allows animals to grow so big and why they would not be able to live on land. We also discussed the problems of rescuing a blue whale, an animal who heart is a big as a small car and whose largest blood vessels are big enough for them to swim through. 
The children then stood back to appreciate the size of the blue whale - with teachers marking each end of the 30m.

It was a great day and the children learned lots of new stuff about marine mammals and the local coastline. They learned about the sea mammals that live of this beach and the scientific monitoring programme to study these mammals.

The children learned how dolphins are perfectly adapted to life in the ocean but how these adaptations work against them if they become beached. The children also learned about some of the conservation threats to sea mammals as well as experiencing the beach ecology and more.

The sea mammal project does work well in schools and of course they benefit from other multi-media presentation and activities - such as food webs. But running the session on the beach is a whole new experience that I will be hoping to duplicate.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Seals and basking shark

There appears to be a lot of seal activity of Sussex at the moment.

A common seal has been visiting Shoreham again the last couple of weeks, in particular between the 6th and 9th July when it was seen everyday some times more than once.

Most of these sightings were in the river Adur the seal travelling over a wide area and has been seen near the Norfolk Bridge but also as far up river as the old cement works. Cuckoo corner has also been a favourite site.

 Some anecdotal sightings off Shoreham Beach but on the 7th July it was seen close to the beach (Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve) where it swam within 20 metres of swimmers.
Also a grey seal has been seen off Lancing, Worthing and Littlehampton and on 5th July it approached a swimmer off Worthing, as seals are very inquisitive animals.

Another marine animal not recorded for some time locally made an appearance at Brighton, a 3 metres basking shark on Tuesday 2nd July (but unfortunately I was at the Big Bang South East Schools Stem Science Event, so I missed it.  The basking shark was reported by the coxswain  of the Brighton and Hove Lifeguards Patrol Boat

The shark was heading east. In my childhood it was not that uncommon to see the occasional basking shark off the Sussex coast in the summer and occasionally one would turn up in Shoreham harbour where sadly many of the fishermen would cast their lines at it in an attempt to catch it. Of course they didn't manage to, but some lines did entangle the shark.

As always photographs are invaluable, not just to ascertain species but also to identify individual seals (that have unique markings). Such photographs made it possible to determine that the seal sightings in the Adur earlier in the year were actually three separate seals.

The grey seal was seen off Worthing today it is possible that this is the same seal that was moulting and turned up on beaches and harbours last month. There also appears to be another grey seal in the river Arun. Depicted below, the seal appears to be eating a flatfish.
Photo from John and Mary Lucioni

I am keen to hear from anyone who sees a seal and also if anyone hears anything else about the basking shark.