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.

January to March 2017

We are off to a great start for sightings this year, with 118 sightings reported between the 1st January and 31st March, totalling 431 individual animals. This is the most reports, ever submitted to HWDT during this period, so thank you to all those who contributed!

The most frequently encountered species over this period was harbour porpoises, with 77 sightings of 239 individuals. Sightings of porpoises are much less frequent in the winter months, with 9% of the sightings last year recorded between January and March. However, they are still present in our waters, despite the low temperatures and reduced concentrations of food.

Bottlenose dolphins were reported 12 times over the three months, with encounters in Barra, as well as the Inner Hebrides, around Mallaig, Mull, Iona and Islay. At the Trust, we continue to track and record individual bottlenose dolphins, who we identify from photographs, using notches and marks on their dorsal fins. This winter Lynsey our Photo-ID volunteer, processed 7888 images of bottlenose dolphins and minke whales, spending a lot of time updating our catalogues and matching individuals. This project continues Nienke van Geel’s work, which aimed to further our understanding of Scottish bottlenose dolphin and minke whale movements.

Additionally, we also track and record individual killer whales and Risso’s dolphins using photo identification. During this period, both species were reported five times across the Hebrides. Sightings of Risso’s dolphins (totalling 20 animals) were confined to the north of our survey area, off the Sutherland coast. Whereas sightings of killer whales were further south, around Skye, Mull and the Small Isles. Most of the sightings of killer whales this month, were of two animals, often reported as two bulls. Fantastic photos sent in by Aaron Mclean, enabled us to identify these males, seen off Canna on the 28th February, as John Coe and Aquarius from the West Coast Community. However, this does pose the question, if we are only getting reports of the males, where are the females? Ewan Miles, based on the Isle of Mull, encountered five animals off the west coast of Mull just a couple of days later. One of whom has been confirmed to be John Coe. It is believed that John Coe was with another male and up to three females, with the males later breaking away to continue on towards Muck. Sightings of the females are much rarer - however, this does not mean that they are not in the area, they could be just out of sight, travelling in the same direction, possibly even a few miles apart as a sub-group. Males are also much easier to spot from a distance, particularly in rough weather, as their dorsal fins are double the height of the females fins.

Since January, we have had five sightings of humpback whales across the west coast. These were focussed around Lewis, as well as in Loch Long, with an amazing report coming in from someone’s back garden. This isn’t the first time humpbacks have been seen in Loch Long, however the whales have quite a journey to get there, navigating through the busy waters of the Clyde to reach it, presumably for food. Humpback whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction in Scottish waters, but over recent years we have noticed an increase in the number of sightings being reported. It is unconfirmed if this represents a genuine increase in population size, a range shift into Scottish waters, or more vigilant reporting from members of the public. However, researchers in Ireland believe that humpback whales there are increasing in numbers – an encouraging sign for the future!

Finally, we have had a few early sightings of our summer visitors this year, with six common dolphin encounters and three minke whale encounters already. Based on reports, it seems that some smaller pods of common dolphins have stayed around the Hebrides this winter, with sightings reported in every month throughout 2016, and sightings continuing through January to March 2017. It won’t be long until sightings of these summer visitors become more frequent from our shores, so keep your eyes peeled, and stay tuned for future updates. Thanks to everyone for submitting your sightings, and please do keep them coming!

 To see a map of the sightings from 1 January to 31 March 2017, click here

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