Cetacean sightings review for UK Whale and Dolphin Watch Weekend 27/28th July

30th Jul 2002 A little over 200 sites were manned around the British Isles including Northern Ireland, from Hermaness in Shetland down to Jersey in the Channel Islands and Isles of Scilly in Cornwall. Around one thousand people participated, with groups of as many as 20-30 attending some sites. Systematic watches were carried out from the land-based sites whilst others went to see on a variety of vessels from yachts to oil rig supply vessels and ferries. The prime aim was simply to raise public awareness of whales and dolphins around the British Isles, although we also hoped it would provide a useful 'snapshot' of the coastal distribution of different species in late July.

Saturday morning dawned fine and calm in many areas, and the first sightings had been reported already by 05:30 by Andy Tait, with porpoises seen opposite the Farne Islands at Bamburgh in Northumberland, and other early morning sightings, one as early as 04:30 of porpoises from Cley-next-Sea, Norfol=

k and shortly after from the entrance to the River Ribble in North-west En=

gland and at. In several regions, the weather then took a turn for the wors=

e with wind increasing and the sea becoming quite rough in places. The west coast of Scotland and Hebrides had poor weather most of the day with wind and rain although this did not stop reports of porpoises and minke whales from around Mull, the Small Isles and, further north, in Gairloch. Two groups of bottlenose dolphins were sighted from the Cal Mac ferry south of Skye early in the morning, but then the weather closed in.

Sunday started similarly along the east coast of Britain with calm seas bec=

oming rougher as the day progressed. The west coast of Scotland had very poor weather most of the day, with winds of force 4 or more, rain and mist, but in the evening this cleared in places and the sea flattened out. In Wales and Southern England, it was a generally good day, with very calm seas along the south coast especially.

Harbour porpoises have been the most frequently and widely reported species, occurring at most sites watched along the east coast of Scotland and North-east England south to Orford Ness and Kessingland beach on the Suffolk coast. On the west coast of Scotland south to West Wales and the north Devon coast, porpoises have been sighted at most localities watched. The main areas where the species has not been reported, despite systematic watches being conducted at a number of locations are from Kent and the south coast.

Second most frequently reported species has been the bottlenose dolphin with sightings off the west coast of Scotland near the Isles of Skye and Rum and in the Solway Firth, and on the north and east Scottish coasts from Caithness south to St Andrews Bay and the Tay Estuary. In England, small groups have been seen at several localities in the northern Irish Sea including around the Isle of Man, and in South-west England off the north Somerset, Devon and Cornish coasts, and in south Devon. The simultaneous distribution of widely separated small groups of bottlenose dolphins throughout the UK is particularly interesting. With the summer population of more than 200 bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay, west Wales being reported in only small numbers, it suggests that this population may have dispersed over a wide area of the Irish Sea with animals possibly ranging to South-west England. We a=

lready know that the Moray Firth population can range down to the Firth of Forth (and even Northumberland coast), and this certainly was reflected in the sightings over the weekend. The most easterly sighting of bottlenose dolphins in Southern Britain was at Selsey Bill in West Sussex, and the most southerly sightings were in Jersey, Channel Islands, where several small groups were seen.

The third most frequently reported species has been the minke whale. All sightings so far have been from Scotland - on the west coast around the islands of Mull, Rum and Eigg, and in Gairloch, a