Bottlenose dolphins are the only species of whale or dolphin to have a protected area in the whole of Scotland. This area is in the Moray Firth and is in place to protect the 130 dolphins that make up the population that lives off the northeast coast of Scotland but have been known to roam down as far as Newcastle.
On the west coast however bottlenose dolphins are far fewer in number. A small group of around 40 live around the Island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides and another group of 15 or so animals moves around the Hebrides, favouring the waters off Mull, Kintyre, Skye – and, from time to time, Gairloch! Others make up offshore populations, although due to their penchant for deeper waters, very little is known about them.
We were privileged indeed to see this pod of dolphins (on three different occasions in as many days) a couple of weeks ago. The pod contained two young calves, still with their foetal folds, so relatively new members of this family group, what a joy! As we told you in a previous blog, we sent our photos to Barbara at Aberdeen University’s Lighthouse Field Station in Cromarty for her to compare our dorsal fin photographs with those in the Scottish bottlenose dolphin catalogue – and a huge thanks goes out to her for being so quick to get back to us and for finding our matches within the group of animals known to move around the islands!
Barbara has identified up to 8 recognisable animals from our pod of 12 – 15 dolphins. And remember – all of our photographs were taken from the shore. Ok, Nicola has a camera with a Very Long Lens!! But we’re really pleased that we managed to get some photo-id’s from land. We even photographed some animals from both sides, as they traveled south and later returned to the north!
In one really special finding – we photographed a dolphin with one of the young calves – and Barbara has said that it may be her first, as she hasn’t been seen with a calf before. How lovely!
Despite there being so few bottlenose dolphins off the west coast, they currently have no formal protection. We want this to change. In fact, it’s because there are so few dolphins that they really need protecting! The bottlenose dolphins on this coast are entitled to the same protection that those in the Moray Firth already enjoy and we’re calling on the UK and Scottish governments to provide this protection.