Developing a site-based conservation approach for sei whales, Balaenoptera borealis, at Berkeley Sound

Targeted Territory:
Falkland Islands, Berkeley Sound
August 2016 – September 2017 (13 months)
Lead Organisation:


Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) populations were severely depleted by about 80% during the commercial whaling industry of the mid-twentieth century, with most of the decline occurring in the Southern Hemisphere. Classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, the present status of the South Atlantic population is still relatively unknown and no specific studies have been undertaken at the Falklands.

As a migratory species, sei whales are regularly sighted in coastal waters of the Falklands during the summer, and although their distribution is often variable from year to year, there are known ‘hotspots’ including Berkeley Sound, a partially enclosed water body (150km2) close to the capital of the Falklands. Berkeley Sound is the busiest shipping harbour at the Falklands, with peak activity occurring during the commercial fishing season. The possibility of inshore vessel to vessel oil transfers at Berkeley Sound, as a result of the offshore hydrocarbon industry emerging at the Falklands, also poses the potential to significantly increase marine activity. With local anecdotal evidence suggesting sei whale numbers may be increasing and with this predicted rise in commercial marine activities there is real potential for serious negative impacts on sei whales within the Sound and therefore a need to better knowledge to manage these increasing pressures.

Description of the project

The project had three broad objectives:

     1. To increase knowledge of sei whales, by carrying out scientific surveys to derive information on the number and distribution of sei whales and their interactions with human activities in Berkeley Sound;
     2. To raise awareness, by disseminating information on whales to the public, relevant stakeholders and decision-makers; and
     3. To provide management recommendations, with regard to mitigating any potential impacts on whales from human activities in Berkeley Sound and through the development of best practice guidance for maritime users, including those offering whale-watching ecotourism.
Lack of information on species and habitats has been identified as a crucial barrier to conservation management across the South Atlantic overseas territories (Taylor et al., 2016). The BEST 2.0 project therefore focussed on developing a survey programme to collect novel information on whale occurrence in the Falklands and also to trial several field methodologies on sei whales in order to establish what techniques would work best for monitoring this species in the future.

The aims of the fieldwork were to provide information on the following aspects of whale occurrence in the Berkeley Sound cKBA that are directly relevant to their management:

     1. Species identification: Which whale species occur and what is their relative frequency?
     2. Spatial distribution: How are whales distributed within the cKBA?
     3. Group size and composition: Are whales in groups or alone, and are calves present?
     4. Behaviour: Are whales present in Berkeley Sound for feeding or breeding (or both)?
     5. Abundance: How many animals are using Berkeley Sound over a season?
     6. Human activities: Is there overlap between sei whales and human users of the Sound?
Spatial distribution of all cetacean sightings recorded during surveys from the Cape Pembroke lighthouse in 2017.

Achievement of the project results and purpose:

The intended project results have been delivered as follows:

Understanding of sei whale abundance, distribution and ecology at the study site has been greatly increased as outlined thoroughly in the Scientific Project Report. Management advice has been produced, including a draft Code of Conduct for marine users to follow to reduce impacts on sei whales and other cetaceans.

Awareness amongst steering group members, stakeholders and members of the general public of sei whale ecology and potential impacts on the species has been increased, as confirmed by the stakeholder questionnaires. Stakeholder consultations were carried out and the project had an associated social media presence (via the FC Facebook page). Articles were placed in the Penguin News, a radio interview was carried out, and a 12 min feature on the project was produced by Falkland Islands TV (FITV). Additionally a public talk was held in Stanley and was very well-attended by the general public and stakeholders, and a talk at the Junior School was also carried out. An interpretive board providing information on sei whales and other whale species is being installed at Cape Pembroke, with a second board on dolphins also produced by the Sei Whale Project Officer. A dedicated project sei whale leaflet has been produced and will be freely available from the Falklands Conservation office and whale-watch tourism operators. An information poster on the sei whales of Berkeley Sound has been produced. All of these items are provided with this report as project deliverables, and have served to increase awareness of sei whales and publicise the project in the Falklands.

Decision makers are better informed about sei whales, their conservation status and the potential challenges from increased maritime infrastructure and traffic, following the extensive information on these subjects provided in the Scientific Project Report .

In addition, the project has been successful in highlighting the Cape Pembroke peninsula as a feasible shore-based whale- and dolphin-watching venue that could bring socio-economic benefits to the Stanley area in terms of attracting tourists. To further develop this output, the BEST 2.0-funded sei whale project officer has worked with FIG to design and manufacture two interpretive information boards on whales and dolphins that are due to be installed by FIG along the Cape Pembroke peninsula hiking trails to further highlight the cetacean ecotourism potential of the area for tourists and locals. Encouraging shore-based whale-watching also addresses one of the main management recommendations in providing a viable alternative to the use of boats and aircraft to view cetaceans, and therefore reduces potential impacts from disturbance and vessel strike.
Spatial distribution of all cetacean sightings recorded during surveys from the Cape Pembroke lighthouse in 2017.
One unexpected result from the project was the notable success in acquiring sufficient good-quality identification images of sei whales to be able to develop a photo-identification catalogue for Berkeley Sound in 2017. This catalogue will be available publicly and will provide a further legacy element to the project in terms of being available for future years for people to compare their sei whale images against.

PO Box 609, Stanley Cottage North
Ross Road, Falkland Islands
Stanley, FIQQ 1ZZ
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