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.

2012 Sightings Summary

2012 has been a fabulous year for HWDT and our Sightings network, largely due to the big increase in sightings from all you lovely people, and also partly due to the great weather we had over the summer which gave us ideal conditions for being out at sea spotting cetaceans!

The total number of Sightings reported to us for the year 2012 was just shy of 1000 at 951 compared to 696 in 2011 and 482 in 2010, so a really significant increase! Our sincere thanks go out to all who have had a part to play in this, the more information we have the greater the breadth of our work here at HWDT!

The greatest number of sightings were of our most common cetaceans, the Harbour Porpoise, with 396 reports , numbering in excess of 1000 animals, from all over the West Coast of Scotland. Travelling mostly in small groups of between 1 and 6 animals on average, they frequent these waters all year round and the number of harbour porpoises in Hebridean waters is amongst the highest in Europe.

The next most commonly sighted cetacean was the amazing Minke Whale with 147 sightings of just under 200 animals. The sightings have tended to be single individuals, or pairs, with a few larger groups of 4 or reported to us.  The sightings were predominantly around the North Coast of Mull, and around Skye and the Small Isles, and were between April and November.

Common dolphins were spotted a lot in 2012, with 115 sightings reported to us, compared to 71 in 2011. The total number of animals reported was a massive 4497! The maths shows us that the average pod therefore is around 40, with some smaller pods numbering around 20 and some ‘superpods’ ranging from 100-500! The majority of the sightings were between North Mull and Ullapool and were between April and October.

We had 107 reports of Bottlenose dolphins, with 837 animals spotted. Photo-identification work has found that there is a population of 30 to 40 animals inhabiting the Inner Hebrides (Kintyre to Skye) and a separate group of about 12 animals recorded in and around the Sound of Barra. Our numbers show that these animals were spotted over and over again. Indeed, the sightings for Bottlenose dolphins tend to come in waves, with lots of sightings some months, and very few in others, showing that the population moves around over a wide area. The majority of the sightings this year  were around the Ross of Mull, and the West Coast of Mull and were all year round, with the first one of 2012 being spotted on the 10th January and the last one of 2012 being the 29th November.

We are lucky enough to have a population of Orcas who pass by these waters occasionally and we had 29 sightings of 134 animals reported to us, from all around the North West Coast. You may have seen the feature on Orcas on the ‘One Show’ recently, in which the Presenter was searching for Orcas in the Hebrides and was tipped the wink by none other than HWDT, which resulted in some fantastic footage of the Orcas and of our fantastic marine environment here, as well as some great publicity for us!

10 sightings of Atlantic White-Sided dolphins were reported all between March and August and numbering  72 animals, up from 2 sightings in 2011. Reports of Risso’s dolphins were down from last year however with only 4 sightings compared to 12 last year.

A  Pod of 8 Pilot whales was spotted in Loch Sunart, as well as one in Loch Long, where a Northern Bottlenose whale was also seen. One lucky person reported a sighting of a Humpback Whale to us, in Loch Portree in Skye. Humpback whales are occasionally encountered in the Hebrides travelling between breeding grounds off Africa to feeding grounds around Iceland and Norway; there are one or two sightings in the Hebrides each year. Sea-bed mounted hydrophones (underwater microphones) have also recorded humpback whale presence in UK waters.

And finally, the Basking sharks. Although not cetaceans but fish, the Basking shark is frequently seen in Hebridean Waters with Coll and Tiree being a particularly popular area for them. Groups of over 50 have been seen here and a research project is underway to try and find out more about these amazing fish! We had 135 sightings with great numbers spotted particularly in the summer months around Coll and Tiree.  Smaller groups and individuals were reported to us from other areas in Hebridean waters but with high frequency, so the big question is….why the big groups around Coll and Tiree, what are they up to? We will let you know once the results of the research project are published.

A very big thank you to all who have reported their sightings to us in 2012, the HWDT sightings network is a very important part of our work here at HWDT and informs much of our research.  Here’s  to a fantastic and productive 2013!

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