White-beaked dolphins are no stranger to the Aberdeenshire coastline and are in fact the most abundant dolphin species in the UK, also common off north-west Scotland and occasionally seen in Western and Southern Ireland, St George’s Channel and English Channel. These animals are usually an offshore species, favouring feeding in deeper waters. In the past months however, increasingly regular sightings of the dolphins off Aberdeenshire have been seen close to shore in large numbers.
The first encounter of white-beaked dolphins reported this year occurred during a SWF survey on the 29th May. Ian Sim, SWF Regional Coordinator was onboard and described this encounter as unusual, as these animals are not normally seen in coastal waters until late June or July. At the same time, there were reports from fishermen of mackerel arriving to the area much earlier than expected which may explain this unusual sighting if the dolphins were following their prey.
By July, sightings of the species were regular with eight reports including 46 animals seen from Souter Head Cove on the 30th. Coastal sightings in August were increasingly frequent and white-beaked dolphins were spotted 11 times. More than 60 animals were watched from Donmouth on the 1st, a very large group size for this species so close to shore. The dolphins were reported to be repeatedly leaping and splashing. Sightings continued to be recorded from Aberdeen, Greg Ness, Newtonhill and the Muchalls. The last reported sighting on the 17th August came from Ian Sim and Caroline Weir, whilst on survey. They spotted ten animals at the Muchalls and the memorable encounter lasted an hour. Some animals approached the boat to bow-ride and entertained observers with leaps and by circling the boat.
It is not yet known if these increased movements further inshore are a result of changing prey distribution and if this is a pattern that we should expect to see in years to come. You can help us attempt to answer these questions by doing timed watches for cetaceans either from land or sea or by sending in chance sightings of these animals. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on how to be involved.