Basking shark
Basking shark

Monthly Sightings Reports

HWDT’s Community Sightings Network encourages residents, local wildlife operators and visitors to the area to report their sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises to HWDT. This information is important because it contributes to our understanding of where and when particular species occur. Report your sighting HERE.

Each month HWDT publishes a summary report of the sightings recorded via our Community Sightings Network. In summer we receive the greatest number of sightings while winter is a quiet time. This is partly due to the number of species present but also reflects the sea state and number of people on the water watching for whales, dolphins and porpoises. In winter, fewer people are watching and the sea state more frequently makes sightings difficult, or even impossible. Also non-resident species have migrated for the winter. At this time of year HWDT receives more strandings reports than at other time as storms can wash animals ashore. These seasonal variations will be reflected in our reports.

Select the monthly report you wish to view from the panel on the left of this page.

July 2014

July was a bumper month for sightings, with a total of 268 logged via our website. This is over double that of July last year when 131 sighting were reported. By far the most recorded species was the harbour porpoise, with 54% or 146 sightings. The largest group was 10 animals, but they were typically reported in pairs. We are delighted that people are reporting this under-appreciated and highly protected species. The wee harbour porpoise is often lost in the limelight of the other more acrobatic species, but they are a true hardy mammal living in the open seas but preferring coastal waters including deep into the sea lochs. Minke whales were the second most frequently sighted species, occurring widely around the Minches, Skye, Mull, Small Isles and Jura. An impressive 48 sightings were recorded with some groups of up to five individuals and some aerial behaviour (surface-active lunge-feeding) and breaches also recorded.

The third most frequently reported species with 26 sightings was the bottlenose dolphin, which also tends to prefer inshore waters. One group had an estimated 20 individuals, however 5-10 was more typical. The most unusual sighting was that of a fatal interaction between a pod of bottlenose dolphins and a single harbour porpoise. The 10 dolphins were observed by Andrew Watson and company from their yacht in the Firth of Lorn, to the west of Easdale. They repeatedly jumped on the porpoise, submerging it and ramming it. After the porpoise died, the male bottlenose dolphins tried to mate with it. This very puzzling sexually aggressive behaviour is certainly a sober reminder that the 3-4m long bottlenose dolphins can be far from cute and cuddly!

A super-pod of common dolphins (up to 500 strong!) caused great excitement as it raced north up the Sound of Mull in glassy seas on 23 July. The huge pod seemed to disperse around Ardnamurchan thereafter. Similarly, a pod of 100 common dolphins was spotted in the narrow Sound of Rhea before presumably going out under the Skye Bridge. These pelagic dolphins are sometimes quite at home in coastal waters, where large shoals of fish may attract them close to shore. Unfortunately a mass-stranding of commons occurred at Loch Buie on Isle of Mull on 24 July, perhaps a break-away group from the super-pod observed in the Sound of Mull the previous day. Although they stranded in an isolate bay, quite actions by local holiday makers including Simon Lane and the local Corbett family meant that 12 were re-floated successfully and made it back out to sea. One had a plastic box-packaging strap wrapped around a pectoral fin, which the rescuers were able to remove. The common dolphin sighting tally for July was 24 (or 9%).

We have had just 8 basking shark sightings compared with 17 during the same period in 2013, 30 in July 2012 and 39 in July 2011. The question of whether or not this reflects and actual decline will have to be addressed using effort-based sightings data, such as those from the Silurian summer surveys. However, the peak in the season for basking sharks is traditionally in August, so hopefully the number of reported sightings will increase next month.There were seven sightings of killer whales mostly in the north of the Hebrides around Lewis. Risso's dolphins were reported on three occasions, and were observed twice from land (Calgary Bay on Mull and Faraid Head, Sutherland), proving that they are not restricted to deep waters. Thanks as always for your sightings and please keep them coming!

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