Marine Spatial Planning: Mapping historical whale sightings to manage the future!

——————————-This blog post was written by Veronica Frans, research assistant at SAERI in the Darwin Plus-funded project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands’  team. The Environmental Planning Department financially supported the study via their Environmental Studies Budget. An edited version of this blog post was published in the Penguin News on 29 April 2016.——————————————————————

Last year in October, a blog post was written about the Marine Spatial Planning team’s efforts to capture the story of whale recovery in the Falkland Islands’ waters. I travelled all around the Islands, interviewing people about where and when they had seen whales throughout their lifetime, and if they could recall a difference between the numbers they saw in the past and what they see today. I also went through museum archives, government and whaling records, old newspapers, Falklands Conservation reports and scientific publications. The results are finally in and it seems that indeed, a story can be told!

Increase in whale sightings since the 1970s when none were seen

Increase in whale sightings since the 1970s when none were seen

Interviewee accounts have indicated that many whales were often or always seen in the Falkland Islands’ waters in the 1940s and 50s, but in the 60s and 70s, there were very few to virtually no observations. Commercial whaling ended worldwide in the 1980s. Since the 1990s, the number of observations has increased and skyrocketed for the 2010s, since we still have half a decade left to go! The older generations could recall having seen whales in their childhood, but noticed their absence and recent return; most interviewees representing the younger generation, however, had stated that they did not recall seeing their first whale until adulthood.



The majority of whales seen in the Falkland Islands’ inshore waters are sei whales, followed by fin whales, minke whales, southern right whales and humpback whales. Sighting hotspots were found, with the highest concentrations in Berkeley Sound, Falkland Sound and the large bays of West Falkland.


Whale observation hotspots since the 1990s

One interviewee described the increase in whale sightings as an “explosion of whales” and others stated that they were “glad to see they’re back and [they] like seeing them”. To many local residents, the return of the whales in the Falklands’ waters may be obvious, but we now have data to study the recovery and tell the story to the rest of the world. Locally, the findings from this study can be used in Marine Spatial Planning by informing FIG on potentially important areas for the whales, and when they are most likely to be present in these waters.

Peak of whale sightings: January to March each year

Peak of whale sightings: January to March each year


I and the rest of the Marine Spatial Planning team thank all participants again for their contribution, as well as those who provided other useful sources of information for this study.

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Conference presentation: Using local knowledge to predict baleen whale distribution around the Falkland Islands

Veronica Frans, from the Marine Spatial Planning project team at SAERI, attended and presented her research at US-IALE 2016 (the International Association for Landscape Ecology). The conference took place from 3-7 April 2016 in Ashville, USA. Veronica presented the results from the work she has been doing in the Falkland Islands since August 2015 on baleen whale historical distribution and sighting numbers, as well as an innovative species distribution modelling (SDM) technique using local knolwedge data to determine suitable habitat for baleen whales around the islands, now and as their numbers recover. The results will inform the MSP process for the islands. See the abstract here.


Veronica giving her presentation at US-IALE on Monday 4 April 2016.








———-Veronica F Frans, Amélie A Augé, Jan O Engler and Hendrik Edelhoff (2016). A whale of a tale: using local knowledge to predict baleen whale distribution around the Falkland Islands. US-IALE 2016, Ashville, North Carolina, USA.——————————–

The modelling work is conducted in collaboration with German scientists with expertise in SDM, Jan Engler (Zoological Researchmuseum Alexander Koenig) and Hendrik Edelhoff (Dept. of Wildlife Sciences,Georg-August-University Göttingen, Göttingen).

The presentation was very well received with some great feedbacks and interesting ideas to complement and improve the research.

The Darwin Plus Marine Spatial Planning project funded Veronica’s attendance but she was also awarded a NASA travel award that provided assistance with travel costs (congrats Veronica!).

Veronica receiving her NASA award

Veronica officially receiving her NASA award from Jack Liu and Janet Franklin during the conference.


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