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The Cetacean Monitoring Unit
News sheet - October 2004
Editorial: Membership of Sea Watch
Sea Watch Foundation is a registered Charity and also a non-profit making Limited Company.
The Council of Management extend an invitation to all our friends and supporters and all of you involved in the
study and conservation of cetaceans to become members of the Company that administers Sea Watch.
If you would like to know more about the legal structure and management and would like to consider applying to become a member of the Company, please contact us by email or by post, and we will send you an application form.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sea Watch Foundation, 11 Jersey Road, OXFORD, Oxon OX4 4RT Shetland Islands – Sightings submitted to Shetland Sea Mammal Group 7th September A minimum of 6 Risso's Dolphins were seen off Bard Head, Bressay, shoaling fish from about 13:50. They were present for at least one hour when they kept moving east and then returning back inshore.
10th September 2 large minke whales were observed close in off the north side of Out Skerries.
29th September About 40 harbour porpoises and a minke whale were seen in South Nesting Bay. A whale was also seen in Scalloway harbour - possibly a sei whale, although this would be unusual so close inshore.
North Scotland: Report by Iain Macdonald - regional co-ordinator for North-East Scotland All three of the most frequently recorded species, harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphin and Minke whale were reported. As was the case during the summer the number of Minke whale sightings was lower than in 2003. A sighting of 3 adult and one juvenile Risso’s dolphin off Brora on 5th September was notable since this species is not often recorded from the shallower sections of the Moray Firth. Possible Risso’s dolphins were also recorded further east off Lybster, Caithness on 8th September. On the same occasion bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise were also recorded off Lybster. In late September and into October, Gills Bay on the north coast of Caithness proved the place to be to find harbour porpoise. Over 30 animals were reported as being present and were probably regular at this site for a few weeks, until at least 24th October when approximately 30 animals were present.
The highlight of the autumn and probably the highlight of 2004 was recorded on 8th September by Mr Colin Bird of Caithness. At his favourite lookout at Lybster viewpoint, Colin reported seeing a bottlenose dolphin attacked by a probable killer whale. This was shortly followed by a probable killer whale attacking a porpoise. In total Colin reported 3- 4 bottlenose dolphins, 1 harbour porpoise and 4 probable killer whales (Colin only saw the dorsal fins of the large cetaceans which attacked the dolphin and porpoise, but made the point that he assumed the animals to be female killer whales). Whichever species were involved, the sighting must have been amazing to watch. Colin’s
account of the dolphin and porpoise being attacked is:
"19.57 Bottlenose dolphin shallow leaped from the sea, just as his head hit the water one of the larger creatures came up under him and went for his underside. This was followed by four or five seconds of splashing. At this point it occurred to me that it was like a dog shaking a rag doll. Although I had a camera, I was so wrapped up in what was happening it never occurred to me to use it. (light was poor by this time). I thought I had all the luck I was going to
20.14 I was surprised to see a single porpoise swimming out from the shore then a large creature appeared to its right and slightly behind then the two came together and there was three or four seconds of splashing."
The Caithness coast produced more sightings of killer whales at Lybster and at Whaligoe steps approximately 8 km north of Lybster where 12 animals were seen hunting seals on 10th October.
Another exciting report from Colin Bird was a sighting on 23 October of a single killer whale that was keeping a group of approximately 10 Atlantic white-sided dolphins close to shore off Lybster harbour. It proved to be a great day for cetacean species off Lybster where possibly 6 species of cetacean were reported. Some species could not be confirmed as definite, but the final list was; harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphin, Risso's dolphin, Minke whale, killer whale and Atlantic white-sided dolphin.
North Grampian: Report from Peter Macdonald – regional co-ordinator for North Grampian September The weather just got better during the first week, and sightings came in from various sites. Off Findochty, large groups of 40+ were seen. During the second week, bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise, minke whale (Cullen bay) and 2 humpback whales were recorded off Lossiemouth.
The dolphin sightings continued to be healthy with ample feeding coming into the firth, mackerel and squid were still plentiful.Over at Lybster, orca were being recorded, so maybe that was why the bottlenose dolphins were here….
The dolphins were well spread out with large to small groups all along the coast.
The second SWF survey took place on the 11-12th with fair weather and bottlenose dolphin sightings over at Spey bay.
We also held a festival at the end of the month at Findochty and a week-long tour of schools in our area with the whale and dolphin road show.
October Sea Watch surveys on the 2-3rd & 9-10th recorded harbour porpoise close to Troup head near Gardenstown, and a lone bottlenose dolphin, during the survey back west at Spey bay we were visited by the search and rescue helicopter and a close to the boat, a basking shark….
With the shorter days and colder weather, watching dropped a wee bit but bottlenose dolphins were still being seen in various area with Lossiemouth to Burghead being a favoured area.
Land-based sightings were slowing down but this is normal for the time of year the dolphins seem to move out the area at this time (end of month), but during the last survey we encountered 17+ dolphins off Buckie and Findochty the week before. On the 1st November, two sightings of 20+ bottlenose dolphins were seen at Lossiemouth and Spey bay.
Looking back, the late summer has been fine; we have seen four species on our surveys, heard about two others - the orca and a sunfish in Cullen bay. It was exciting to see in September the large groups with at least 10 calves in their midst. So the future looks fine for the dolphins. Maybe they are not seen so often and in the usual areas but all things change - the food supply and the fishing boats must have played a role in this. All we can do is hope for fair weather and “loupers on the bow”.
South Grampian: Report from Kevin Hepworth – regional co-ordinator for South Grampian Harbour porpoise - 30 reports came in, all but three from October, probably a reflection of the calm weather compared to September’s very autumnal weather with frequent easterly gales. Five on 29th Sept off Doonies Farm was a good report. All other sightings were of between 1 and 3 individuals, with exceptional reports from 23rd and 31st October from boat-based surveys.
Bottlenose dolphin - 18 reported sightings, largely from Montrose to Stonehaven, with six from Aberdeen where the animals have been seen once a week or so. 24 on 12th September, and 23 on 20th September, represent good
White-beaked dolphin numbers have, as usual, fallen dramatically, with the last 'regular' sighting occurring on the 5th September off Slains Castle. A second very late report came in of three off Muchalls on 9th October, and a possible lone animal off Cove on 23rd October will go down as a dolphin species although the three brief glimpses suggest it may have been a white-beaked dolphin.
Minke whale - one off Doonies Farm on the 29th September Dolphin species - an unusual report of 25+ very acrobatic, small dolphins heading south past Stonehaven Golf Club on 26th October may have been bottlenose, but any further ID was not possible and the observer’s suggestion of porpoise seems unlikely.
Report for NW Sutherland from Andy Summers: July – October 2004
No reports for September and only one for October:
24th October at 15.00 6 miles SW of Cape Wrath 3 minke whales feeding on a “massive” shoal of herring.
West Scotland: HWDT Reported Sightings: September – October 2004 September 2004 brought HWDT’s 10th anniversary together with 20 years of Sealife Surveys, to be celebrated in style at our West Coast Whale Festival (Please see www.hwdt.org for a full report from Ros. Kidman Cox!) Sunday 19th September marked the Festival’s Whale-watching Regatta, with HWDT’s research & education yacht “Silurian” and Sea Life Surveys’ small “fleet” of cetacean-watching vessels….
“When the four boats set out, I convinced myself that the sea was relatively calm, the crew were experienced and wouldn't take me out into the stormy bit, even if there were minke whales there. I had a coveted place on the Silurian (you can actually sleep on it, should you want to), and once our sails were set, we were off at speed, two harbour porpoises racing alongside. Though the porpoises turned out to be our one and only cetacean sighting, none of us minded. All thoughts of sickness and awareness of being drenched were expelled by the exhilaration of being aboard such a dolphin-like boat, tuned so perfectly to the sea.” Rosamund Kidman Cox, Former editor, BBC Wildlife Magazine
Most of the recent HP sightings have been from boats, thanks to the brave souls who are still looking out to see when they’re on the ferry!
Two groups of 6 HP were spotted off the West of Mull, probably feeding together, on 1/09/04 and 10/10/04 off Ulva Ferry. There was also a lone HP seen on 11/10/04 from the Oban – Craignure Ferry, leaving the boat behind as it travelled back towards Oban. And on 25/10/04, hardened enthusiasts afloat in the Sound of Mull were treated to at least 4 HP milling around their dive boat. Over the wreck of the Hispania, these cetaceans were spotted from the surface; after a dive, alas!
Our single reported bottlenose dolphin sighting for September was on the 9th from Mull, when a group of 9-10 BND were spotted from the Tobermory Lighthouse path, travelling NW fast, towards Ardmore Point. However, limited sightings reported in September were consoled by a bounty of October sightings!
On 8/10/04, 20+ BND were spotted North of Loch Ranza on the Isle of Arran, only 100m off-shore; On 10/10/04, 2 adult BND were seen West of Eigg (one of the Small Isles, north of Mull); And on 19/10/04 off Drimnin/Morvern, 25-30 probable BND were “spectacularly observed swimming fast, leaping, splashing and feeding, very close to the beach at two locations!
From the sea:
The Islay – Kennacraig Ferry crew have been keenly scanning and reporting plenty! Interestingly, the crew have included water depth on all their sightings and these BND were all within 13-18m of water, showing this species
preference for shallower, coastal seas:
On 23/10/04, at 10am, approx. 10 adult BND with 3-5 juveniles were spotted off Port Ellen, Islay, playing & porpoising around the boat as it left the bay. Then at 2.35pm that same afternoon, south of Port Askaig in the Sound of Islay, approx.14 adult BND with 6 juveniles were seen porpoising close to the boat, bow-riding and then playing in the boat’s wake!
Approaching Kennacraig on 27/10/04, at the entrance to West Loch Tarbet (on the Kintyre peninsular) approx. 30 BND were observed bow-riding briefly and swimming fast before disappearing.
Finally, on the 28/10/04 in the Corran area, approx. 20 BND approached the ferry from ahead, swimming fast, before splitting into two groups to pass the boat on both sides.
From the mainland:
On 29/10/04 at 11.30am, one sharp-eyed sailor was working on his boat at Ardfern marina, and spotted an estimated 20 BND on the far side of the Loch opposite! Lots of leaping and charging about was obvious to this experienced observer, even from approx. half a mile away!
At mid-day on 30/10/04, 15-20 BND were spotted in the Sound of Mull, off Fiunary (Morvern), milling and feeding, leaping and splashing, believed to be heading south.
There have also been sightings of a lone BND seen from the boats travelling between Iona & Staffa, for a few weeks during October. Just goes to show that these animals are still active around the coastal waters of the Hebrides’ small islands, even if most of the tourists have gone home for the winter!...
Local boat operators have still been running limited trips out to sea at this time of year – and with successful results!
An evening cruise off Tobermory Lighthouse on 7/09/04 spotted a MW blow, swimming slowly. The whale surfaced again, close to the boat, and was identified by the Sealife Survey crew as “Nick”; one of HWDT’s sponsored Minke whales! This individual was first identified in Hebridean waters in May 1992, and has been seen every summer since, with the only exceptions being 1996, 2000 & 2001 – a total of almost 30 times!!
On 10/10/04, at 1.0pm on North Uist, at least 1 adult MW (possibly 2) and 1 juvenile were spotted from Balranald RSPB Reserve!, 200 yards out from the rocks at low tide.
On 25/10/04, at 3pm, near Little Colonsay, on return to Ulva Ferry from Staffa, 1 MW was seen from the boat, swimming slowly and surfacing twice before diving (probably feeding, with associated gulls), heading East.
15/09/04, 3.15pm, 9 Risso’s spotted from a RIB-ride down the Sound of Sleat, heading south.