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Brownies support whales and dolphins

15 June 2018

WDC With Risso's Dolphin In Scotland

I was on an early morning beach dog walk on Monday, our first day back on the Isle of Lewis this year when I saw a fin slice out of the water in the quiet, still bay in front of our accommodation. I held my breath. Not just any fin, but a Risso’s dolphin the very individuals that we are here to study!

We want to understand why these Risso’s dolphins, who typically live in deep waters further offshore, are so often found in this relatively small area just off the Isle of Lewis on the west coast of Scotland. Now after eight years of surveying we understand that they are here to feed, often with very young calves and the local fishermen tell us that octopus, one of their favourites meals are plentiful at this time of year.

Our goal is to get a Marine protected area (MPA) in place to ensure Risso’s dolphins and other wildlife are protected here.

Risso's dolphin

Later, we jumped on our survey boat, Hebrides Fish ‘n’ Trips, and headed out into a flat calm sea, we could not miss the dolphins! There they were, in the same area as we had seen them from the shore just a couple of hours earlier. Watching one or two of them surface and seeing their white bodies gliding just under the surface of the clear water, quickly we recognised one of the large and distinctive dorsal fins from as far back as our very first survey in 2010. These individuals are familiar to us. We see the same distinctive Risso’s dolphins returning to this habitat year after year.

We study the dolphins using three methods – photo-identification of individual dolphins, sound recordings of the dolphins through underwater microphones called ‘hydrophones’, and year-round land-based observations by a dedicated and trained team of community volunteers. We now know that this area is very important for Risso’s dolphins and we have been campaigning for a MPA to be established by the Scottish government.

The Scottish government has promised to consider this possibility for this and three other sites important for whales and dolphins around the Scottish coast.  VERY GOOD NEWS for whales and dolphins in Scotland and VERY GOOD NEWS for WDC! 

By Sarah Dolman,WDC.

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