Brownies support whales and dolphins

13 October 2017

Studying Risso's Dolphins On The Isle Of Lewis

Despite bad weather and stormy seas, our WDC researchers returned this summer to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in search of Risso’s dolphins.

After a few frustrating days stuck indoors, the weather cleared enough to make it out to sea for the first time. Not long after leaving the harbour, the WDC researchers found themselves in the incredible position of watching a huge pod of about 50 Risso’s dolphins! ‘There was Risso’s activity in every direction we looked’.

Risso's dolphin

The dolphins were clustered in small groups, covering a massive area.  There were fins surfacing everywhere. Some dolphins were hurling themselves out the water and into the air and then slamming back down into the water. Others were head-slapping or tail-slapping the water. We think most of them were sub-adults (teenagers) as their markings were mostly grey with only hints of white. Older Risso’s are always whiter. Perhaps this was the reason for their boisterous behaviour and seemingly high spirits?  

As suddenly as the Risso’s appeared, they disappeared, and the researchers were left feeling elated yet slightly disappointed that they hadn’t managed to spend more quality time with them (or get any meaningful photo-identification photos) but … knowing that they were in this area was one of the major parts of our research project and so that made us all smile.

The following day the researchers ventured back out to sea in the hope of finding the Risso’s again, but after hours of searching had to settle for a some beautiful harbour porpoise sightings and an inquisitive pod of common dolphins who came leaping over to ride the bow of the research vessel. Even to the seasoned researcher, common dolphins are an absolute pleasure to encounter as they always seem to be full of the joys of spring and generally just loving life! 

Every day our researchers were treated to some kind of cetacean encounter - porpoises were a-plenty when conditions were calm (a species that is very hard to spot when even the slightest wave or swell), minke whales small and large were seen feeding and common dolphins delighted us with their desire to play in our wake and ride the pressure wave at the front of the boat - whistling the whole time. On one such encounter there was a pod of around 300 dolphins taking it in turns which meant they stayed with us for almost two whole hours!

We only encountered one more pod of Risso’s dolphins during this past week, and again they were very active.  But there’s still some time to go before this, our 8th field season in Lewis, comes to a close so we’re hopeful for more encounters to come! 

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