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 2015

This is probably an appropriate time to admit that the weather around the Hebrides this spring and summer to date has been pretty awful. Terrestrial wildlife has found it a struggle in the cold, wind and damp. Indicators such as bees and butterflies have been in short supply, wild flowers have been coming into bloom very late, and it has been a poor year for many top predator birds which have lost broods or have failed to nest completely. So how do these weather conditions relate to marine species and cetaceans in particular? Sea temperatures have stubbornly remained 2 or 3 degrees below normal and some migratory (food) fish, such as mackerel, have appeared in our waters very late and seemingly in fewer numbers than usual. On its own the public sightings report tells a mixed story.

Overall numbers of sightings were down slightly on July 2014. The plankton-feeding basking shark encounter rate was similar to last year but low again with 8 (compared with 17 in 2013, 30 in 2012 and 39 in 2011). This might be a sign of a decline in July numbers but although sightings were low for the month they were increasing towards the end, perhaps in line with sea temperatures finally rising a little. Concentrations of plankton seem now to be good so it may be simply that the windy weather has made spotting of this enigmatic animal more difficult. Also seen less often have been harbour porpoises, and they too, being relatively small and unspectacular swimmers may simply have been under reported. Not so for Jan Storie, however, who on the morning of 16th July set out from the Sound of Sleat heading for the Small Isles and, on return in the late afternoon, sent in 29 different sightings of porpoises. Jan has, however, recorded even better days in previous years.

Bottlenose dolphin sightings were marginally up on last year, with the majority in their territory around the Isle of Mull, but individual common dolphin sightings were down significantly. There were no signs of the vast ‘superpod’ numbers that appeared last July, although Tim Wallis recorded a pod of 70 west of Loch Torridon. Dolphins are, of course, primarily fish and squid feeders, stocks of which may have been in reduced supply early in July. It may surprise some people to know that the killer whale is also part of the dolphin family and another potential - though in the Hebrides unlikely - fish eater. They have turned up quite regularly this month, albeit widely dispersed, but it should be noted that they are more likely to feast on porpoise. On the other hand, minke whales eat fish and the 33 sightings reports of them signalled a fall of on last July. They were seen spread consistently, but mainly from the north of Mull/Ardnamurchan to Ullapool. So, have the sea temperatures had an effect on sightings? Perhaps so, but it should be remembered that some species are less effected than others and some interesting anomalies have been a source for speculation and wonder in equal measure this month. Humpback whales appeared on six occasions with an animal in the Firth of Clyde receiving a lot of attention, and a solitary sighting for 2015 of an Atlantic white-sided dolphin occurred when it actually live-stranded and was refloated at Callanish on Lewis. Finally, although not strictly in Hebridean territory, it may have been the cold sea that brought an ultra-rare arctic beluga whale close up to the shore of County Antrim on 30th July – a superb end to a fascinating month.

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