Chris Blackmore, Regional Coordinator (North Devon)
Cetacean monitoring from Ilfracombe has been notable this summer for a decline, not only in porpoise sightings, but also gannets. With the arrival of mackerel in May porpoise sightings into June were about normal, however, by mid June the local angling trip boats were reporting no mackerel being caught. This coincided with a decrease in porpoise and gannets being seen feeding inshore. We would normally expect almost daily sightings, close inshore at this time of year. We spent 2 weeks in July on Lundy and the picture there was similar, of few mackerel and our sightings of porpoise and gannets feeding were down on previous years. Our return to Ilfracombe showed no improvement in sightings and we heard a similar tale from other watchers on the North Devon coast. On 3rd August I had reports of large numbers of mackerel starting to be caught again, although small in size. With the start of this second run we expected an increase in porpoise and gannet sightings but this didn’t start to happen until late September. I spoke with the skipper of a Wildlife cruise boat who does daily trips east as far as Combe Martin and west as far as Rockham Bay during the summer months and he also reported not only a lack of porpoise and gannet this year, but that it was the worst year he had known for sightings. He put this down to the lack of mackerel . A further complicating factor was the arrival off Ilfracombe in July of a bottlenose dolphin which remained in the area for almost 2 months. Inevitably christened locally as “Dave” he/she became a major attraction for both holidaymakers and locals alike through the summer months, interacting with the pleasure boats on a daily basis. (I’d like to add that at no time did I observe any of the boats acting inappropriately around the dolphin. They cut engines and waited for it to approach and there was no crowding. ) This was the first bottlenose dolphin reported off Ilfracombe for over 10 years and I wonder if it’s presence had an effect on the local porpoise population, as well as the initial lack of mackerel? Although the mackerel have now declined as usual, we are starting to see more porpoise again. It will be interesting to see what happens next summer!