Dolphin detective work makes a match!

A bottlenose dolphin breaks the surface in front of our research yacht,  Silurian

A bottlenose dolphin breaks the surface in front of our research yacht, Silurian

Bottlenose dolphins seen at Gairloch have been identified as previous visitors to Tobermory Bay!

A group of bottlenose dolphins sighted in early June by Hebridean Whale Cruises - who report sightings made during their trips via our recording app, Whale Track - have been identified by Rian Harris, our Education and Photo ID Volunteer.

Skipper, Steve Truluck, captured some amazing photographs of the dolphins’ dorsal fins, clearly showing the unique nicks and markings used to identify individuals. Older dolphins often have marks and scars inflicted by other animals (including rake marks caused by other dolphins’ teeth) which can be used as identifying features to recognise individuals from a population.

Living on the Moray coast I regularly see the famous Moray Firth bottlenose dolphins, but this was the first time in 2 years of working on the west coast that I saw bottlenose! Thankfully, they stayed in Loch Gairloch all day, giving us 3 wonderful encounters and I managed to get dorsal fin photos of all of the animals to submit to HWDT. It’s fantastic to then get the information back from the scientists, to find out some of their history and to understand more about their movements.
— Steve Truluck, Hebridean Whale Cruises Skipper & Guide

Comparing Steve’s photos to pictures in our Bottlenose Dolphin Catalogue, we were able to match four dolphins to recorded animals that have visited us right here in Tobermory Bay in 2016 and 2018! Also, one of the dolphins spotted during the encounter, a male, has been sighted regularly since 2005.

These dolphins are members of the Inner Hebrides group, a community of 30 to 40 animals that inhabit the waters between Kintyre and the Isle of Skye. In 2006, our researchers were the first to suggest that groups of bottlenose dolphins were resident year round on the Scottish west coast. Since then, our data have revealed the west coast of Scotland is home to two seperate groups: the Inner Hebrides community and a smaller group of around 15 dolphins, the Sound of Barra community.

FD7010 and FD6035 together in Tobermory Bay last year

FD7010 and FD6035 together in Tobermory Bay last year

Bottlenose dolphins are one of the species HWDT researches using photo-ID. With a catalogue of photos going back as early as 2001, we can look through our records of known dolphins and work out which individuals are being seen by our amazing community across the Hebrides!

It’s great to be able to tell people about the animals they’ve seen, and every photo helps us learn a little more about Scotland’s cetaceans.
— Rian Harris, HWDT Education & Photo-ID Volunteer

Photo-identification is a powerful research tool, but the work would not be possible without the contributions made by our community of citizen scienctists and local wildlife tour operators – we are extremely grateful to everyone who shares their sightings and photos with us.

Our Bottlenose Dolphin ID Catalogue is currently being updated by Education & Photo-ID Volunteer Rian, and will be released along with our updated Minke Whale ID Catalogue later this year.


If you would like to get involved with monitoring whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks off Scotland’s west coast, check out Whale Track - you can either download the free and user-friendly app or submit sightings online via the website. There’s also an interactive sightings map to explore!