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.

October 2014

During October we received 72 sightings of cetaceans, with no sightings of basking sharks which is to be expected for the time of year. Harbour porpoises were the most commonly sighted cetacean this month, with 36 sightings of a total of 272 individuals! As in September, group sizes were very large, with up to 30 individuals being seen in single groups. Autumn certainly seems to be the time of year to see harbour porpoises… if only the seas were calmer! This month we received just three sightings of common dolphins. With the days shortening, we would expect to see the numbers of common dolphins dwindle as they head off to other waters in search of food. Presumably they head south, possibly to the Celtic Sea or the Bay of Biscay, but know one really knows. They will return in spring or early summer when feeding conditions become favourable once again. Minke whales follow a similar routine: migrating to their mystery breeding location before returning in May. We did receive 15 sightings of minke whales during October from St. Kilda, Skye, Sutherland and the Small Isles. The vast majority of these sightings were of individual or lone whales, rather than in small groups of 2-3 as happens during summer.

Risso's dolphins were reported twice from Swordale in Lewis. The area near Chicken Rock off Swordale seems to be a favourite haunt for these unusual grey/white dolphins. It is a great place to see them from shore, however they too are a migratory species, so perhaps they will not hang around much longer as winter approaches. Bottlenose dolphins were recorded on nine occasions with an average group size of 14 individuals. Strangely enough, sightings were confined to waters around Mull… but perhaps they have also been seen elsewhere and not reported to us? Killer whales were notable in their absence this month, perhaps they are further offshore, or who knows, they may have gone wandering again. They occasionally turn up on the east coast of Scotland and in the west of Ireland.

The highlight of the month was undoubtedly the humpback whale seen in the Sound of Raasay. This individual was reported to us by Andy from Isle of Skye Wildlife tours. The whale was recorded in the same location off Tianavaig Bay near Portree on Skye between 22 and 30 October. It may well be in the area still at the time of writing (31 October). Distant photographs show this humpback fluking (raising its tail in the air upon diving) and heavy 'scuff marks' could be seen on the fluke and on the dorsal fin. These are areas where the skin has been worn off from the whale scraping off the seabed during feeding. HWDT would love to try and match this whale with the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue to find out more about where it has come from. In order to do this, we need a good quality photograph of the underneath of the tail fluke. If anyone has such an image, we would be grateful if you could send it to the sightings officer (sightings@hwdt.org). As with so many other cetacean species in our waters, we don't know where humpbacks go to give birth once they leave Scottish waters. It is likely that they migrate to either Cape Verde or The West Indies. Thanks again for all your sightings, and do keep them coming!

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