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.

Winter/Spring 2016

Between 1 November 2015 and 30 March 2016 (i.e. winter and spring), HWDT received 175 sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises.This is about the same number of records that we receive each July. But does this mean that cetaceans are more abundant in summer or winter? It is hard to tell for sure, but considering that the weather is poor and days are short during winter, 175 records is very impressive indeed - so thanks to all those who took the time to submit them to us!

 What stands out immediately from the data (see map) is that the diversity of cetaceans is still high in Hebridean waters during winter and spring. In fact we documented 9 species here during the reporting period this year, the same number as last year. Thanks to these data, we are starting to realise that some species once thought to abandon our waters, actually stay around through the winter. Harbour porpoises are a case in point which accounted for a whopping 63% of all records! It seems that on the rare occasion that the wind and swell abate during winter, allowing people to get out and about, sightings of porpoises come in... albeit in small group sizes (average of 3 per group). It is amazing that our smallest whale (they are toothed whales) put up with the coldest waters through the winter, in sea lochs the fresh water influences the surface temperatures which can be as low as 5 or 6 degrees celsius. No bother to our porpoises! 

The next most commonly reported species was the bottlenose dolphin, chiefly around the Inner Hebrides and Sound of Barra. It seems that Islay is a favourite haunt of theirs during winter months, before records start to spread north again in spring and summer. But maybe they are under-recorded further north during winter? We would love to receive more sightings of this species which exists only in small numbers in our study area. Common dolphins and minke whales were rare during the winter and spring period, as expected as both are seasonal visitors. Minke whales dissappeared to their mystery breeding ground yet again this year... we wonder what threats they face while there, if any? The truth is, we cannot claim to be fully protecting them while the location of their breeding ground eludes us. This is a challenging issue, but hopefully photo-identification will reveal more in time. 

Risso's dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, killer whales, pilot whales and humpback whales were all recorded in low numbers during this period. Unlike the previous spring/winter, we did not record any sperm whales, although they were seen in early April west of St. Kilda in deep waters. Stay tuned for more updates on our sightings as we head towards summer. From now until October we will do monthly sighting updates. Thanks again for all the sightings, and do keep them coming! 

To see a map of the sightings from 1 November 2015 to 31 March 2016, click  here

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