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September wildlife sightings from Nick Davies and other news from Hebridean Whale Cruises.

Orcas, Sharks & Missing Dolphins

23 September 2008

Six Orcas today, one called Floppy Fin and another with an identifiable chunk out of it's dorsal fin (pictured) – this was a female and I'm just waiting to see if it's a recognised animal from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust's database of Hebridean Orcas. Added later: The HWDT has identified the female as a known Orca called 'Nicola'.

Killer Whale 'Nicola' – September 2008

There is also an unprecedented number of Basking Sharks which have been around for three weeks or so now. The best bit is that 90% of them are small juveniles which is great news for the future. There are still some right jockers though (that's Yorkshire for very big).

When people see the fins of these sharks from the shore they can't see how massive these animals are. The water has been crystal clear, so the look on peoples faces when they see one approach the boat is of sheer disbelief. These sharks are not like your traditional ocean-going slender predatory sharks – they are huge and bulky.

Spotted the first juvenile Sabine's Gull a couple of days ago – it's been a long time coming. And as usual I didn't get a good photo! It's been 12 years with this carry on – I've even tried begging passengers to email me one!

On most days something surprises me out there, but today we had a real why? moment. It involved Common Dolphins.

As I approached them I really thought they were Harbour Porpoises – they were very small and they were silhouetted against the light so they looked very dark.

They weren't coming out of the water much but their fins were definitely curved and it turned out that this was a pod of juvenile Common Dolphins and some were small enough to be in the calf category.

I panned around for ages thinking the major part of the pod must be nearby, but there was nothing to be seen for miles. The sea state was mirror calm so I can't have missed them.

As far as I'm aware Common Dolphins travel in mixed family groups, usually with calves sticking to their mothers well into the juvenile stage. So I hope the Orcas didn't have anything to do with this.

Good Chums then Whales Away

15 September 2008

If you want to guarantee whales and dolphins go on a Pelagic chumming* cruise! So far all our chumming cruises have had whales, dolphins and porpoises sighted – not to mention the birds.

It's not that the chum attracts the cetaceans but it may attract their prey. We've seen Minke Whales, Risso's Dolphins and Basking Sharks every time.

It's been that time again when the good old Royal Navy has been playing war games out in the delicate marine environment of the North Minch. And as usual the Whales vanished for nearly a week.

I'm not saying that they shouldn't carry out exercises, but why here and why at the times of year when cetacean populations are at their highest levels? I would certainly like to know how much damage is being done out there.

Obviously I record all whale and dolphin sightings for my own records and for the Seawatch Foundation and it simply can't be a coincidence that as soon as the battleships and submarines arrive the whales vanish, where to?

My records indicate that it doesn't affect the dolphins and porpoises as dramatically because we still encounter these animals. I hope that one of the welfare charities out there will commit to some serious research in this matter.

The Risso's Return

1 September 2008

Still plenty of Minke Whales over Staffin Peaks way and some of the rarer pelagics with a few Sooty Shearwaters and a three-strong flock of Great Shearwaters passing through.

Common Dolphin sightings have been very sporadic, compared to last year, but the Risso's turned up yesterday with a small pod of five. James spotted them whilst at anchor on a pelagic chumming cruise over Staffin way again.

Lots of Sabine's Gulls around this year – all adults so far. Saw an unfortunate adult getting a hard time from two Arctic Skuas during the week and had three adults hovering over Orca 1 - thankfully we had some keen birders onboard.

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