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 2013

July was a very interesting month for sightings with a total of 131 reports submitted to HWDT. While the number of sightings was quite low, the variety of species reported was high and included fin whale, turtle and killer whales.

The species reported to us the most during July was the harbour porpoise, lending proof that this is one of the most abundant populations of harbour porpoise in Europe. Sightings are still less than this time last year when we had 84 reports of harbour porpoise, however 51 sightings this July is still impressive! Worldwide, harbour porpoises are found in relatively inshore waters in the northern hemisphere. They are widespread throughout coastal regions of the Hebrides and are resident year-round.

We have had 17 sightings of basking sharks this July. The basking shark is the second largest fish in the ocean, after the whaleshark and can grow to an impressive 11 meters long! People have reported basking sharks approaching their boats as they filter the water for plankton with their wide mouths agape. In some cases the shark is as long as the vessel!

July was a poor month for minke whale sightings with only 16 reports of minke being submitted to HWDT. This is down from 25 reports last month and 30 reports in July 2012. While the number of minke whale sightings may be lower than in previous years, the reports HWDT have received are in no way less exciting. Many of the sightings reports from July described the whales lung feeding. Lunge feeding is a behaviour associated with minke whales feeding on sand eels, and it has not been seen in a number of years due to a decline in the sand eel population. The fact that minke whales are once again lunge feeding may be an indication that the sand eel population has begun to recover.

HWDT received 19 reports of bottlenose dolphins in the Hebrides this July. Many of these dolphins were seen in the waters around the north end of the Isle of Mull, which is interesting as bottlenose dolphins are usually found around the southern end of the island. We even had a pod of around 10 individuals enter Tobermory bay three evenings running. They provided tourists and residents alike with a grand display of leaping and splashing. One lady also captured this spectacle on film and you can see the footage on our facebook page.

July also saw a sighting from one of our rarer visitors in the form of a single fin whale which was spotted 10 miles east of St Kilda. Sightings of fin whales in the Hebrides are very rare, with the last sighting occurring in September 2011, and generally only occur during summer months. It has been suggested that the whales, which are normally found in offshore and shelf waters, move into our inshore waters to take advantage of the rich food resources available during the summer.

The west coast community (WCC) of killer whales were very active this past month, on the 10th HWDT received a report of two killer whales hunting seals off the rocks at Triagh Mhor beach (Tolsta Beach). Between the 19th and the 23rd of July there was numerous reports of a group of 4 killer whales in the waters around the Small Isles, Coll, Ardnamurchan and the southern coast of Skye. Using photographs submitted by members of the public HWDT were able to match two of these killer whales to individuals in our photo-ID catalogue, identifying them as the males “John Coe” and “Comet”. Killer whales were again seen along the south coast of Skye on the 31st when they were spotted by some land based observers from Neist Point.

During July common dolphins were seen on 10 occasions, Risso’s dolphin on 4 occasions, Atlantic white-sided dolphins were seen once and unknown species of dolphins were seen twice. HWDT also received a report of an unknown species of turtle, the turtle was spotted from land as it broke the water surface near Carragriech on Harris, it was described as creating long very visible sea trails in the calm clear water as it propelled itself along the surface with its flippers.

Many thanks to everyone who reported sightings to the community sightings programme this July.

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