History and context
The Netherlands is not known as a whale watching hotspot. With no formally developed commercial whale watching industry, much of the Dutch public is unaware that there are any whales or dolphins off their coastlines. And yet, harbor porpoises are common along many parts of the coast, and other species, such as bottlenose dolphins, and increasingly humpback whales are also seen from time to time1-5. In 2007 a group of dedicated researchers and members of the public formed the Dutch NGO ‘Stichting Rugvin’ (The Dorsal Fin Foundation). The group’s main objectives were to contribute to the understanding of whale and dolphin distribution and conservation needs along the coast of the Netherlands and to raise awareness of these issues among the Dutch public. A fairly small group, with limited means, the group relies on a network of roughly 30 volunteers to conduct much of its work. To address their first objective, the NGO has set up three long-term studies: the long term and continuous collection of data through the placement of volunteer observers on the Stena Line ferry crossing between Hoek van Holland and Harwich; the coordination of a large annual volunteer effort to count and photograph harbour porpoises in the Oosterschelde region of Zeeland; and an ongoing photo-identification project to identify individual harbour porpoises off the coast of Zeeland and monitor them over time. Furthermore, between 2009 and 2014 the group conducted acoustic research using underwater hydrophones to monitor harbor porpoise presence in the Oosterschelde. Through this work the NGO established that coastal waters off the town of Zierikzee host a resident group of 30-40 harbour porpoises that are present year-round, and often visible from the town’s harbor jetty.
The NGO’s founder, Frank Zanderink, began to think about ways use this newly acquired knowledge to allow members of the public to experience the same thrill and appreciation that the volunteer research team did every time they observed a porpoise or listened to their vocalizations. He hit upon a unique idea: an onshore listening station where visitors could hear the vocalizations of harbor porpoises in real time as they looked out to sea in this harbor porpoise hotspot.