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.

May 2013

May has been a good month for cetacean sightings with a total of 58 sighting reports, more than double the amount that we received last month. May saw an increase in the number of reports of our most commonly sighted species, reports of bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise, minke whale and common dolphin are all up on last month.

Harbour porpoise were the most commonly reported species in May with 17 reports comprising of 52 animals in total; the majority of porpoise sightings came from the waters around the Isles of Mull, Skye and Harris. The next most commonly sighted species was the minke whale with a total of 12 sightings, mainly from the west coast of Lewis and the waters around the Isle of Skye. Both the bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins were very active this May with most people reporting them actively chasing fish, tail slapping, breaching multiple times and spending time bow riding and associating with boats. One common dolphin calf was reported as “jumping clear of the water and landing on its side”. In total we received 11 sightings of bottlenose dolphins, ranging from South Uist to the Firth of Clyde and from Ullapool to Corryvreckan, and we had six sightings of common dolphins mostly from the waters around the Isle of Skye.

The month of May was very much a month for firsts, with the year’s first sightings of Risso’s dolphin, pilot whale and basking shark. May also saw the HWDT research vessel, Silurian head out to sea for her first cetacean survey of the year. The Risso’s dolphin, which is normally found in much deeper water, was spotted from land as it passed 1km to the east of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde and the lone pilot whale, which is normally a very sociable animal and is typically seen in association with other pilot whales, was seen from a motor boat at Bo Fascadale Pinnacle, near Ardnamuchan.

The basking shark is probably the most interesting of the non-cetacean species that are reported to the HWDT, the first basking sharks of the year were seen in large numbers on the west side of Lewis and at Achiltibuie on the 29th of May. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world (after the whale shark) and can measure 11 metres in length when fully grown. They have a huge mouth, which is kept wide open as they swim so that they can filter plankton out of the water. They can filter the equivalent of a 50 metre Olympic sized swimming pool in one hour. As mentioned the HWDT research vessel Silurian set out on her first survey of the year on the 17th of May. As Silurian surveyed the waters around the Isle of Mull, the volunteer crew spotted large numbers of seals, porpoises, seabirds and even some common dolphins and a minke whale.

Please continue to report your sightings to HWDT. The information you provide contributes to our understanding of where and when particular species occur and can be used to identify important areas and monitor changes in species distribution over time.

Mark Hosford, HWDT Sightings and Strandings Intern

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