Tuesday, August 29, 2006

One of the best dolphin watching place is in Scotland

Scotland is the top spot in the British Isles to sight whales and dolphins and is the only region to record all eight species which were seen during marine conservation charity Sea Watch Foundation’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch.

Dolphins have been sighted further north than usual, and minke whales were sighted earlier than usual off the east coast, which some whale watchers put down to global warming.

Minke whales, harbour porpoises, killer whales and five species of dolphin were all recorded, with the Moray Firth proving particularly rich. Dolphin species sighted included Risso’s, common, bottlenose, white-beaked and white-sided during the watch from August 12 to 20.

More than 20 observation sites were manned and open to the public around Scotland’s coast despite poor weather . Sea Watch scientific director Peter Evans said: “The fact that members of the public turned up at watches, despite some truly appalling weather, is testament to the interest that people have in the whales and dolphins around our coastline.”

Watchers reported dolphins in unusual stretches of water off the Lybester viewpoint, North and South Kessock and, earlier in the summer, as far north as the Minches north of Skye. The Shetland Islands saw a large group of around 100 Atlantic white-sided dolphins and four species were recorded from Orkney and northern Scotland.

“The arrival of common dolphins in northeast Scotland is unusual and may be an indication of warmer sea temperatures,” added Evans.

“In previous years they tend to have extended their range into the Irish Sea from the Continental Shelf edge, going no further than western Scotland during the summer, returning south to mainly the Southwest Approaches and Bay of Biscay for the winter. This year there have been a number of sightings in the northeast of Scotland and elsewhere in the North Sea and we will be watching to see whether they become annual visitors.”

He welcomed the wider distribution of minke whales to the west coast after a dramatic decline last year. They were spotted in the Sound of Sleat, at Rubha Hunish and around the islands of Mull, Eigg, Rum and Skye during the watch. A shortage of food supplies was thought to be to blame for their decline in 2005 and it remains to be seen if they are back to their 2004 numbers.

Peter Stevick, scientific director for the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust said: “The thing that we noticed most dramatically was that last year we had a big decline in minke whales and an increase in basking sharks. They eat the same sand-eels which the minke whales feed off. It could be a case of more food for them and less for the whales.”

Watch participant, Peter Macdonald of Friends of the Moray Firth Dolphins, described the sight of four minkes off the east coast as “real theatre”.

“The Moray Firth has been very good this year. We have seen minke whales as early as May and they normally come in late August and September. They are seen on the west coast but this year they came round to the east side much earlier. Global warming is one of the main things but it is also food, there have been more sand eels this year so they go to where the food is.”

Jean Ainsley of Sea Life Adventures, which offers dives and wildlife trips around the Firth of Lorne Special Area of Conservation, said there had been more sightings of smaller sea mammals this year. “We are seeing a lot more dolphins and we saw porpoises on every trip which is really great. Eco-tourism is much bigger in Scotland than people recognise so hopefully surveys like this will show what good sightings we have.”

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"