Record numbers of whales and dolphins spotted

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A record number of whales and dolphins have been spotted across the UK this summer, as warmer waters and clearing skies have led to sightings of an ‘unprecedented’ number of species.

The annual UK National Whale and Dolphin Watch has reported more than 500 sightings by volunteers since the start of the event on July 28.

Around Scotland, keen-eyed observers have seen a whole host of different species, including killer whales swimming around the Outer Hebrides and a humpback whale performing a barrel roll near Torry Battery in Aberdeen.

The event was run by environmental research charity Sea Watch Foundation, and its organiser, Chiara Giulia Bertulli, called it the ‘best whale and dolphin watch of the past two decades’, after records showed sightings were up 50 per cent on last year’s figures.

In the past few years, Scotland has led the way in the UK for whale and dolphin viewing, and this summer volunteers fought patches of bad weather and often poor visibility to report sightings across the country’s coasts.

Dr Giulia said: ‘On the West Coast, harbour porpoises were seen at widespread locations and were the most sighted species in Scotland. The second most commonly seen was the minke whale, also widespread but recorded particularly around the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

‘Common dolphins have been observed around the Isles of Skye, Lewis and off Lochinver and Peterburn. And, most excitingly, a fin whale and a pod
of five long-finned pilot whales were spotted in deep waters near the Outer Hebridean island of North Rona last week.

‘We are seeing a general longer-term trend for warm water species to be extending their range further north – species like the short-beaked common dolphin and the Risso’s dolphin as well as the striped dolphin. Since a greater number of species live in warm waters, the effects of climate change can actually be positive at mid latitudes such as around the British Isles.’

‘We should still be a little cautious,’ added Dr Peter Evans, director of the Sea Watch Foundation. ‘Although new species of cetaceans have been added recently to the British list of mammals, there are more northern species that we could lose from our region – species like Atlantic white-sided dolphin and white-beaked dolphin, and the problem with tropical and warm temperate species entering our seas is that they face a much wider range of human pressures along the industrialised coastlines of northern
Europe.’

To report a sighting, or to find out more about the Whale and Dolphin Watch 2018, go to www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk.