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 2013

August was a very interesting month, with some quite exciting sightings and an extraordinary discovery. HWDT received a total of 203 sightings reports during the month of August, this is an increase from last month when we received 131 sightings reports. The number of sightings reports for all the most common species is up from last month. This increase is very encouraging as the number of sightings reported this year has been lower than previous years, due to a colder start to the year, it’s nice to finally see everything start to catch up!

August saw a massive increase in the number of basking shark sightings reported to HWDT. We received a staggering 66 reports of these ocean behemoths. To put this jaw dropping figure into some context, we received 47 sightings of basking shark last August and a total of only 45 sightings between January and July this year. While basking sharks sightings were reported from all around the Hebrides, three areas in particularly had very high numbers of sightings, these areas included the waters around the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde (around Lamlash Bay and Brodick), the mouth of the Sound of Mull (around Calagary, Glengorm and Ardnamurchan Peninsula) and around Coll (Cairns of Coll & Gunna Sound). Quite a few of the reports from the Cairns of Coll included descriptions of the basking sharks breaching vigorously and repeatedly, which is quite a sight to see. Not only has there been an increase in the number of sighting reports, there has also been an increase in the number of sharks seen in each sighting, with groups of 10 – 15 sharks commonly being seen. One group of around 40 sharks were spotted 6 miles west of Gunna Sound on the 6th and another group of 25 were seen off Canna on the 21st.

Minke whales were also out in force during August, with 27 sightings reported to HWDT from all around the Hebrides. As with the basking shark, large numbers of minke sightings were reported from the waters of Firth of Clyde and from between Mull and Coll and as far north as the small Isles. Many of these reports described feeding and foraging, thus showing the amount of food which is available now that the autumn plankton bloom has occurred.

HWDT had 36 sightings of bottlenose dolphins during August. Many of these sighting occurred around the southern coast of Mull, between Iona and Craignure, this is an area which the Inner Hebridean population use on a regular basis. However quite a few of the sightings occurred along the north-west and north coast of Mull, from Calgary Bay over to Bloody Bay, with one sighting occurring from the Tobermory to Kilchoan ferry.

Harbour porpoise were very active during August with a grand total of 83 sightings the majority of which came from the waters around the Summer Isles and Lochbroom. A sighting of 15 porpoises was reported from the Minch, just south of Lochmaddy. The porpoises were seen in several smaller groups all associating within the vicinity of each other. This is a little unusual as harbour porpoise are normally observed in small groups of 2 – 5 individuals.

Common dolphins, while only reported 18 times, were seen in large numbers throughout August. Groups of between 30 to 50 individuals were commonly reported to HWDT, many of these large groups were seen in the area between the Cairns of Coll and the Isle of Rum. One such group, seen just north of the Cairns of Coll, were observed partaking in some very interesting behaviour where two individuals were photographed swimming belly to belly (one dolphin had to swim upside down to achieve this). This is a typical example of sexual/social behaviour, the animals may have been involved in reproduction or they may simply have being playing. Such types of play are used by juvenile dolphins to practise important behaviours such as reproduction or hunting techniques.

August was an exciting month as far as orca (killer whales) where concerned, HWDT received the first confirmed sighting of orca from the West Coast Community (WCC) on the east coast of Scotland. The sighting occurred in the waters off Peterhead during the afternoon of the 20th, and was captured on video by local man Ian Nash. Ian’s video footage clearly shows John Coe, a male with a very distinctive notch in his fin, along with one other male and at least one female. The video footage was seen by Sanna Kuningas, of the Sea Mammal Research Unit, who recognised John Coe (from his distinctive fin) as a member of the WCC and alerted HWDT and Dr Andy Foote who has studied the orca populations of the north east Atlantic. Orca from the Northern Isles Population, which are a different type of orca and never interact with the WCC, are regularly seen on the east coast. However this sighting of members of the WCC was the first time a group, of this small and highly unique population have been reported to HWDT off the east coast of Scotland. Before this discovery, it was believed that the range of the WCC was limited to the West coast of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Since announcing this exciting news, HWDT have received more of reports of John Coe and friends as they move along the east coast, from Wick down to Fife and back up to the Moray Firth. As well as these more recent reports, HWDT have received a number of previously unknown historic reports of WCC orca on the east coast. Following our press release HWDT were contacted by the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit, who informed us that they had intermittently encountered John Coe and members of the WCC in the Moray Firth over the past 17 years. With these new sightings and previously unrealised historic data HWDT can now expand the range of the WCC to include the east coast of Scotland.
The east coast is not the only place that the WCC have been making themselves known. The remainder of the population have been quite active on the west coast, with 6 sightings throughout the Hebrides, from Swordale on Lewis to, Neist Point and Trumpan Head on Skye and at the Cairns of Coll. A group of three orca were encountered by the HWDT research vessel Silurian at Soay on the 30th. The crew conducted photo-ID on the orca and identified the three orca as Lulu, Comet & Aquarius.

The killer whales were not the only exciting sightings during August. HWDT have received reports of some of the rarer species which are seldom seen in Hebridean waters. A breaching sunfish was reported near Ardnamurchan Point on the 9th, breaching by sunfish is believed to be an attempt to remove external parasites. HWDT also received a report of a possible humpback whale sighting, the suspected humpback was seen from Wemyss Bay pier, in the Clyde and was observed breaching and slapping pectoral fins against the water surface. As well as these rarer sightings, HWDT received reports of 8 sighting of unknown dolphins, 1 report of an unknown species of whale and a group of 4 white beaked dolphins which were seen in the Sea of the Hebrides.

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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