2/27/2018 2:15:48 PM News

Record numbers of common dolphin sightings off Scotland’s west coast

Hebridean Wd Trust (1)

Sightings of common dolphins across the Hebrides have reached a new record high according to research conducted by marine conservation charity, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Evidence collected during marine research expeditions on the Trust’s specialized research yacht Silurian in 2017 has revealed a dramatic 24% increase from the previous year’s already record-breaking figures.

The findings were made in a research season running from April to October 2017, part of the charity’s unique long-term citizen science project monitoring whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – and basking sharks in the Hebrides.

“We have never documented so many sightings of common dolphins off Scotland’s west coast before. Our findings highlight the importance of on-going monitoring and research to strengthen our understanding of what is taking place in Hebridean waters. It is hard to say what is causing this increase, but a rise in sea surface temperatures linked to climate change could be playing a role.”

DR LAUREN HARTNY-MILLS, SCIENCE AND POLICY OFFICER

During 2017, the Trust recorded 93 sightings of common dolphins – its highest total ever, up from 75 sightings in 2016. The encounters included a total of 1,340 individual animals – down from 2016’s high of 2,303, due to smaller group sizes and fewer super pods.

Over the past two years, the charity has also recorded a higher than average number of sightings of white-beaked dolphins – with 14 sightings of 74 individuals in 2017. Generally preferring colder, deeper waters in the North Atlantic, white-beaked dolphins have distinct white noses. These fast, acrobatic swimmers are usually spotted further away from the coast – favouring sites around the Outer Hebrides, and usually seen in groups of five to 20 individuals.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has been monitoring marine megafauna in the Hebrides since 1994, and from Silurian since 2002. Its surveys are partly funded by a grant from Scottish Natural Heritage, which supports the role of citizen science in better understanding Scotland’s seas. Fiona Manson, a marine specialist at Scottish Natural Heritage, said:

“Volunteer citizen scientists make an important contribution to marine conservation in Scotland. We are delighted to see the research expeditions on Silurian continue to run year after year, and that volunteers are getting to see more and more whales, dolphins and porpoises in our seas.