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 2014

August was, although not as good as July, another great month for sightings. We had a total of 201 sightings logged through our website, which is almost exactly the same amount as August last year (203 for August 2013). Half of all sightings were of harbour porpoises while minke whales rank as the second most frequently sighted species with 32 total sightings. Despite this, the stars of this month are definitely the dolphins, due to what might be an annual inshore bottlenose dolphin tour of the Hebrides, and the great numbers of common dolphins, with a total of 484 sighted individuals spread over only 18 sightings with max group size of 100 individuals.

For the second month in a row, HWDT received report of a fatal interaction between bottlenose dolphins and a harbour porpoise. The unfortunate porpoise stranded just down the road from HWDT's office, at Fishnish, so we went down to take samples for the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme. It was only after we reported the incident online that we learned that a member of the public had actually witnessed the interaction and had mistaken it as being playful. Why this behaviour occurs is unknown - it could be down to porpoises and dolphins competing for the same pray or then the dolphins might be mistaking the porpoise for bottlenose dolphins calves. Another theory is simply that bottlenose dolphins might not be as nice as we think - maybe they attack porpoises simply because it's a way for young dolphins to practice fighting techniques.

The same bottlenose dolphins, a pod of about 15-20 individuals, that we're seen further down the sound and inside Loch Aline, also made their way into Tobermory harbour. They provided locals and tourists alike with a great show as they were watched from the CalMac pier leaping on top of one another, tail slapping and bow riding boats. What could be the same pod of dolphins then continued on their tour and were seen close to shore at Calgary, Isle of Rum and Eigg.

The most unusual record that we received was that of three minke whale sightings from The Clyde, as far north as Loch Long. These were probably of the same individual, seen between 13 and 19 Aug. And the question that everyone seems to be asking is "where are all the basking sharks?". Compared to August last year, sightings of basking sharks have gone down. This month we had 12 sightings of 18 individuals in total, compared to 66 sightings in August 2013 and 47 in August 2012. This drop in sightings has led to many people jumping to hasty conclusions regarding population numbers. One important thing to remember when considering sharks is that, unlike whales and dolphins, they do not need to come to surface. Not seeing them does not necessarily mean that they are not there. Basking sharks come to the surface when good weather and tidal conditions allow for big numbers of plankton at the surface. If the conditions are not right the sharks could simply be below the surface, out of sight. This highlights the importance of continued long term recording of shark numbers. Comparing one year to the next does not give the full picture - only by comparing shark numbers over several years can we start to make conclusions as to whether or not the population is actually decreasing or moving elsewhere.

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