Community sightings summary: May 2017

Sightings May 2017

The Community Sightings Network got off to a fantastic start this month, when on the 1st of May, 10 killer whales were spotted off Tiumpan head, Isle of Lewis. Unfortunately, no photographs were taken of this sighting so we cannot confirm the identity of these killer whales. However, as our West Coast Community has only 8 individuals left and they have never been seen to mix with other pods, we assume that these killer whales are members of the Northern Isles Community that regularly travel to Northern Scotland from Iceland.


The month of May continued to impress with a five-fold increase in sightings compared to April, rising to a total of 237 sightings of 1205 individual whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Almost half of all sightings were from the shore; good news for those who prefer to keep their feet on dry land. Minke whales were the most commonly spotted species, with 33 sightings of 55 individuals observed from land. Many of these sightings were from headlands, lighthouses and castles; Scottish castles were built on headlands to watch for incoming enemy clans, which also happens to make them a great look-out post for whale-watching so have your camera and binoculars ready.

The most common sightings overall, were of our smallest (and arguably the cutest) cetacean, the harbour porpoise. A total of 103 sightings of 252 individuals were spotted, mostly from ferries which regularly pass through the shallow, sheltered waters favoured by harbour porpoises.

A rarer visitor, the humpback whale was sighted twice this month with possibly 2-3 individuals spotted near the Isle of Lewis and Barra. These impressive animals were once a common sight along Scotland’s west coast before the population crashed due to historic whaling. Fortunately, there has been an increase in humpback whale sightings reported in the last couple of years, which could be a good sign for the species in Scotland.

This month also saw the spectacular arrival of the common dolphin, with 29 sightings of 617 individuals. Most sightings reported bow-riding and jumping behaviours that are so characteristic of this species. One impressive sighting reported a super-pod of at least 200 individuals near Ardnamurchan Point, an important spot for cetaceans as well as basking sharks.

The last week of May also saw the first sightings of basking sharks this year, with 4 sightings of 7 individuals. Most sightings were from around Tiree, a favoured feeding place for basking sharks visiting the Hebrides. Although not a cetacean, the basking shark is classified as endangered and Hebridean waters are a critical stronghold for the species.

Numbers of basking sharks, as well as many cetaceans, usually increase throughout the summer, so please do keep an eye out and report your sightings.

On that note, we’d like to thank everyone who reported sightings to us this month. It has been an incredible start to the summer season.