This week Charlie Phillips and I dusted off our lenses and went filming in the Moray Firth. It's been a long winter and a quiet time for dolphin activity, so with the first breath of spring we were eager to get out on the water and catch up with our old friends.
Charlie introduced me to some new friends too; Sarah and Robyn, who run Ecoventures, a wildlife-watching boat operator based in Cromarty. Sarah took us out on the Ecoventures RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) and we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the Cromarty Firth from the water. This part of the world is very rich in wildlife, and as well as dolphins you may see otters, seals, and a huge variety of seabirds (including gulls, shags, and cormorants). The coastline is also dotted with relics of a bygone era, with many pillboxes and defensive posts left from the first and second world wars. A red bouy also marks the final resting place of HMS Natal, a Royal Navy cruiser sunk by a series of internal explosions at 3.20am on the 30th December 1915 with the loss of 421 lives. The site is now an official war grave.
Further out into the Moray Firth proper, Sarah spotted a fin in the far distance. The dolphins had arrived! We set a course to intercept them, and as they drew near Sarah cut the engines and we let the dolphins come to us. The whole boat was abuzz with excitement as the famous dolphins came to inspect our boat. A succession of small groups of dolphins, four or five animals at a time, passed just a few feet from us. Charlie quickly identified a number of individuals, including Moonlight, Rainbow and Nevis.
But then sadly it was time to go. We were running out of boat time, and it’s important to remember that the dolphins need their own time and space without humans interfering. As they started to break away, we took the opportunity to drift to a safe distance before we restarted the engines. As I put down my video camera I looked round to a beaming Charlie who was eagerly explaining the dolphin’s social structures to a fellow wildlife watcher. Everyone have broad grins on their faces; the dolphins had worked their magic once again.