Doctor teams up with boat crew for dolphin discovery

Dr Ben Burville 'White Nosed Dolphin project'Ben at work (Dr at Amble)
Dr Ben Burville 'White Nosed Dolphin project'Ben at work (Dr at Amble)

An Amble GP is once again going out to sea off the north Northumberland coast to discover more about an intelligent animal.

Dr Ben Burville has specialised in swimming with seals and other marine mammals over the years and now he is turning his attentions to the white-beaked dolphin.

Dr Ben Burville 'White Nosed Dolphin project

Dr Ben Burville 'White Nosed Dolphin project

He has been granted a wildlife licence from the Marine Management Organisation to film the species underwater off the north Northumberland coast and has already seen a few of them up close over the last few weeks.

The plan is to build up a database of individual dolphins in the next five years, including sightings over the winter months, in an effort to establish whether there are resident pods.

Dr Burville is working closely with William Shiel and skipper Alan Leatham out of Seahouses using the commercial boat Ocean Explorer, a 30ft rigid inflatable boat with twin 200hp outboards, which enables him to cover a large area of water during each excursion.

“Despite being the most numerous dolphin in the North Sea, the species has rarely been studied due to the complexity of getting offshore,” he said.

Dr Ben Burville 'White Nosed Dolphin project

Dr Ben Burville 'White Nosed Dolphin project

“We have confirmed an area where we know that for certain months of the year there is a high probability of seeing them and anecdotal accounts from local fisherman say that they see more of them in the winter.

“These dolphins are normally found in pods, between three and 30 in size, but what isn’t known is things such as how many males and females make up a pod and how they behave as a group and it will be fascinating to find out.

“They are intelligent creatures and it was mind-blowing that when I swam in a dolphin-like fashion, they came alongside me to find out what I was doing out of curiosity.”

The expeditions will help efforts by various organisations to have a section 11km offshore from the Berwickshire coast and within close proximity to the Farne Islands, dubbed the Farnes East, recognised as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) by Defra.

The glacial feature to the south, known as the Farne Deeps, is of particular importance for foraging and breeding white-beaked dolphins.

Dr Burville, who lives in Morpeth but works at a practice in Amble, uses free diving methods to help ensure that the dolphins do not accidentally get hurt.

Wildlife enthusiasts are welcome to observe the animal from the boat.

The experienced diver said: “Seeing pods of wild dolphins jumping in the open North Sea is a truly spectacular sight.

“I’m very keen to make sure that there is no disturbance of these animals in a harmful way.

“On our trips out so far, they have chosen to come to us and they bowride the boat, but it stops before I go in the water.”

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