The Caithness region of Scotland is renowned for the rich diversity of cetacean seen in the area and so far May has seen a particular abundance of animals. Five different species of marine mammal have been spotted within the last two weeks including two separate sightings of a group of around 40 Long Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas).
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) have been seen on three occasions around the Duncansby coastline, while Swiney Hill, Lybster has been a popular hangout for Risso’s Dolphins (Grampus griseus). There have been several sightings of Harbour Porspoise (Phocena phocena) as well as two sightings of a lone Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).
Colin Bird, Sea Watch regional coordinator for NE Scotland was able to capture three of the sightings from land and submit the images to the Sea Watch “Photo A Fin” campaign. This is a national campaign aimed at encouraging members of the public to take pictures of the fins of any marine mammals they may see from land or sea. Submitted photos will be compared to those on the national ID database and regional catalogues. The aim is to build up patterns of marine mammal movements, behaviour and habits. The movements of some groups of dolphins are already well documented, such as the Scottish east coast bottlenose dolphins which were photo-identified near Whitby, further south than previously recorded.
Individuals can be identified from nicks in their fin or unique markings on their backs and flanks, as is the case for orca and minke whales, or particular patterns of markings on the underside of their tail fluke as in humpback whales.
As Dr Perter Evans, Sea Watch research director explains “By analysing movements more through this ID project, we can learn a lot from the dolphins, whales and porpoises around the UK – about the way they live, where they range to, and the challenges they are likely to face during their journeys. We need to understand more about them to shape conservation policies and so enable them to thrive in UK waters.”
Sea Watch does stress however the importance of adhering to the strict boating regulations preventing boats from intentionally disturbing animals – pictures must be from opportunistic encounters-either when the dolphins are bow-riding or when they approach a boat.
Sea Watch is organising the ID photo campaign as part of its annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Sponsored by BG Group, this year’s watch will run from 7 to 15 August and Sea Watch volunteers will be co-ordinating a series of events nationwide. The charity welcomes pictures of fins of dolphins, whales or porpoises at any time during the year, but particularly during the watch period.