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 2012

We have come to the end of another fabulous month in the Hebrides for whale and dolphin reports!  The weather has been mostly amazing and this is reflected in the sightings we have had reported.  In total we had 193 sightings for July.  The most commonly reported animals were harbour porpoise, minke whales and basking sharks. We had an amazing 84 reports of harbour porpoise, mostly in small groups and ranging from Ullapool to the Clyde.

Our next most reported cetacean was the minke whale with 30 reports during July.  They are commonly found in the waters of the Hebrides, due to the rich productivity. The diet of minke whales in the Hebrides includes a variety of small schooling fish species, including sandeel, herring and whiting, along with some plankton. They are mostly solitary but are sometimes found in small groups, keep your eyes peeled for a long arched black back with a small dorsal fin. Their typical dive sequence is five to eight blows at intervals of less than a minute, followed by a dive which usually lasts three to eight minutes. A significant number of our sightings of minke whales have been between Coll, Ardnamurchan and the Small isles.

Basking sharks are being reported in large numbers which is very cheering news, we had 29 reports of basking sharks and many of these were around Tiree, Coll and North West Mull.  A group of 60 was reported at Hynish in Tiree which must have been a magnificent sight!  The basking shark is the second largest fish in the world; only the whale shark is bigger.  When fully grown it can measure 11 metres in length and weigh about 4500 kg; females are usually slightly larger than males.  They have a narrow, pointed and upturned nose, and a huge mouth that can measure up to one metre across.  Feeding solely on plankton, they swim at up to four mph with their huge mouths wide open, a basking shark can filter the equivalent of a 50 metre Olympic-sized swimming pool in one hour; that’s 2.5 million litres of seawater passing over the gills each hour.  When the animal is seen swimming slowly at the surface, or ‘basking’, the dorsal fin, and often the tip of the nose and the tip of the tail fin, will break the surface as the animal swims. Life expectancy may be at least 50 years.

This month has also seen a number of reports of dolphins: bottlenose, common and Atlantic white-sided.  Of the 22 reports of bottlenose dolphins, 13 were around South West Mull and Iona.  We've had 4 sightings reported of Atlantic white-sided dolphins: 3 around the Northern Coast of Scotland and 1 near Ullapool. The Atlantic white-sided dolphin has a fairly narrow distribution in the cool temperate and subarctic waters of the North Atlantic.  They prefer the continental shelf regions west of the Outer Hebrides, and although they tend to move closer to the coast throughout Hebridean waters during summer months, they are rarely seen within the continental shelf in the Hebrides. We had 19 reports of common dophins during July.  In Hebridean waters, common dolphins are usually found in groups of about 10 to 30 individuals, but sometimes in large, active groups of several hundred.  Their leaping and splashing can sometimes be seen from several kilometres away, and is often what gives away their presence.  They are fast swimmers, reaching speeds in excess of 15 mph.  Common dolphins are very acrobatic and can leap clear of the water. Their high-pitched vocalisations can, at times, be heard by humans above the surface of the water.  These dolphins are inquisitive and sociable animals and often approach boats to ride the bow wave.  Common dolphins with young calves have been observed during summer months in the Hebrides.  A group of around 500 was reported to us by a man sailing to St Kilda! He also reported seeing an Orca on the same journey.  We had 4 reports of Orca, 1 close to home between Ardnamurchan and Eigg where 2 were spotted and others were in Skye and the Pentland Firth where a group of 8 was reported to us.

And finally, a pod of 8 white beaked dolphins were spotted off Little Colonsay, only our 2nd report via the Community Sightings Network of these amazing cetaceans this year. Please keep your sightings coming in, they give us invaluable data for our research and we very much appreciate it!  If you'd like to be more active in our Sightings Network, please contact us at sightings@hwdt.org. 

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