Community Sightings Network Winter Report
With shorter days and a grey weather palette, the winter can be a difficult time to spot cetaceans. Yet between October 2017 and March 2018, 82 people were lucky enough to spot marine wildlife on Scotland's west coast and report it to us through Whale Track. In total, we received 174 sighting reports of eight species and nearly 800 individual animals! Whilst the summer may be the most prolific time for cetaceans in the region, this goes to show that the Hebrides are an important area for many species during the colder winter period too.
Our resident harbour porpoises were the most frequently seen species during this period accounting for over half of the sightings reported through Whale Track with over 300 animals recorded during 94 encounters. Bottlenose dolphins, another of our resident species, were also seen consistently throughout the winter accounting for almost 20% of all sightings.
Common dolphins were once considered summer visitors but have been seen consistently during all months of the year over recent years and this winter was no exception with reports received every month. Most sightings were recorded during October, which is when most common dolphins start to leave the Hebrides to head south to warmer waters for the winter.
Like most common dolphins, minke whales also head south for the winter in October and there were only a handful of sightings after this. One very lucky observer also spotted two humpback whales off the Butt of Lewis in March, a week after our friends at the WDC Shorewatch site at Tiumpan Head, Lewis, had a spectacular encounter with two humpbacks just 20 m from the coast.
We can’t write a sightings update without a special mention of the five killer whale sightings that were sent in during this period too. In case you missed it, back on the 26th of February the iconic John Coe and Aquarius, two large male killer whale from the West Coast Community group were spotted off the north coast of Mull by local fishermen Kenny Turnball and David Macfarlane. Just seven days later the pair were spotted over 600 km away off Dingle in the south of Ireland showing that this group truly are a West Coast Community!
We’d know very little about this unique and wide ranging group of killer whales if it wasn’t for the sightings submitted by the community, so if you have been lucky enough to see a killer whale on the west coast, we’d love to hear about it. Your sightings really do help us track the movements of our coastal species and uncover the mysteries of rare visitors including humpback and killer whales. You can quickly and easily send us your sightings reports using the Whale Track smartphone app or website (https://whaletrack.hwdt.org).
Going into April, we have already started to receive sightings reports of minke whales, which means the 2018 season is upon us! We hope that you can join us to see what the region has to offer and we look forward to seeing your sightings reports come flooding in as the season progresses!
Thanks to everyone who has submitted their sightings to us, and for our seasonal volunteer Alex for compiling this report