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.

August 2012

Another great month for HWDT sightings! We have had 279 sightings reported to us during August, recording over 2000 cetaceans and basking sharks! The most numerous were common dolphins, with 30 sightings recording, amounting to just under 1000 animals! The majority of these were around the Ullapool/ Achiltibuie  area, and some sightings around Coll and Tiree. A pod of around 100 was seen heading South towards the Skye bridge, and then again 3 weeks later heading North up the Little Minch, could they be the same pod? Most of the pods reported were large, with numbers averaging 30 or 40. Over a period of a couple of days a pod of 40 was observed around the Summer Isles, easily identified by the presence of a small individual with a missing fin, but who seemed to be managing fine!

Again we have had lots of reports of Harbour porpoise, 134 sightings recording over 400 animals, some feeding and some travelling.  A lot of sightings are from the land, indicating that porpoises often feed around the shoreline, one lady followed them along the shore on her bike!

Basking sharks were our next most numerous sighting, with 49 sightings, recording 355 of these amazing fish. The majority were in large groups around Tiree and Coll, their hotspot, but we have had sightings ranging from Islay to Lewis in groups ranging from single fish to groups of up to 50. One motor boater reported that they had seen so many on a trip to Coll, Tiree and the Treshinish Isles that they couldn’t count them!  Some basking sharks have been tagged in a joint project by marine biologists from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter.  Their movements are being tracked so some very interesting information should emerge from that study about an animal we really know very little about, but we do know that they seem to congregate around Coll and Tiree.  Dr Suz Henderson from SNH, who is managing the basking shark tagging project said: “We’re really lucky to have the world’s second largest fish visit our waters every summer but we know very little about their movements throughout the rest of the year. We want to know how the sharks use the waters between Skye and Mull and how long they remain in the area. We’d also like to find out how important this area is in the life cycle of the sharks, and if some areas are used more than others. The results from this project will help to answer these questions."

The bottlenose dolphins appear to have moved on from the area with only 5 sightings this month, in Lewis, West Loch Tarbert,  and North Mull, where have they gone? Recently published reports show that the west coast populations of bottlenose dolphins around the UK travel great distances, with the some individuals being identified in the Moray Firth, the Inner Hebrides and off the coast of Ireland. Our photo-ID programme is vital in understanding  movements of these amazing creatures so please try and photograph the dorsal fins of any cetaceans you may encounter - the dorsal fins often have unique nicks and scuffs which enable us and researchers all over the UK to identify individuals. As always, please remember the correct code of conduct when encountering cetaceans, the key is to let the animals decide how close they want you to be and to have a good encounter – one which is enjoyable for you and nonthreatening or invasive to the animals. Do not go too close. Use your judgement according to species and circumstance and the behaviour of the animals. Widely accepted rules of thumb for minimum approach distances are:

• 50m for dolphins and porpoises;

• 100m for whales;

• 200-400m for mothers and calves, or for animals that are clearly actively feeding or in transit.

Minke whales have been putting in a good appearance this month with 39 sightings of 54 animals ranging from Ailsa Craig in South West Scotland to Ullapool, with a large number of sightings between Ullapool and Mull. Reports of a minke whale in Loch Long have been coming in plus we had a report of a pilot whale (probable) at the head of the Loch Long. 8 white beaked dolphins were seen in the North Minch and a pair of Atlantic White sided dolphins were spotted off Skye.
The Orcas have been around! We had 5 sightings of 11 animals, off Lewis, Tiree, Loch Broom near Ullapool and Loch Bracadale off Skye in groups of 3, 2 and 1.
Many of our sightings are reported from land, you don’t need a boat to see cetaceans! Please keep your photos, sightings and information coming in. There is so much yet to understand about these amazing creatures we are lucky enough to have in our waters and every detail helps in our research! Big thanks to all who have taken the time to send in reports.

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