Climate change and the cetacean community of north-west Scotland - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

Climate change and the cetacean community of north-west Scotland

August 2005


  1. Climate change is thought to affect the composition and structure of local ecological communities. We investigate whether ocean warming around north-west Scotland since 1981 has been associated with changes in the local cetacean community.
  2. Analysis of strandings from 1948 to 2003 found that no new species per decade were recorded in north-west Scotland between 1965 and 1981. This rose to 2.0 new species per decade from 1988 onwards. The new species recorded since 1988 are generally restricted to warmer waters, while those recorded prior to 1981 regularly occur in colder waters.
  3. In the period 1992 to 2003, the relative frequency of stranding of white-beaked dolphin, a colder water species, has declined while strandings of common dolphin, a warmer water species, have increased. Similarly, sightings surveys conducted in May–September 2002 and 2003 show that the relative occurrence and abundance of white-beaked dolphins have declined and common dolphins increased in comparison to previous studies.
  4. These observations are consistent with changes in the local cetacean community being driven by increases in local water temperature. If such temperature changes continue, some formerly abundant cold-water species, such as white-beaked dolphins, may be lost from this cetacean community. In a wider context, such changes may lead to populations of cetaceans moving out of areas specifically designated for their protection as they respond to changes in local oceanic conditions.


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