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Cetaceans - Aberdeen and beyond

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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 15:37   #1
Ian Hay
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Cetaceans - Aberdeen and beyond

Having followed threads for birds sighted in and around aberdeen i decided that it was time for one on the local whales and dolphins.

Aberdeen is, in my veiw, the best city in europe for watching whales and dolphins, other cities are great if you get on a boat or go to a headland 20miles away, but in Aberdeen you can go to the torry battery or don mouth on your lunch break and resonably expect to see Bottlenose Dolphins. On a clear day in summer you can also expect Minkie Whale, White Beaked Dolphins, Harbour Porps and in the last few years Risso's Dolphin. Humpback Whale and Orca are not quite annual sightings but not unusual (although never by me).

In addition their are also free trips to the northern isles available if you are interested in surveying whales, dolphins and seabirds. However, more of that in a later post.

If you have any sightings or questions please post or pm.

All the best

Ian
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Old Tuesday 29th March 2011, 18:09   #2
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Marvelous idea Ian - keep us posted and check out my Blog:
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Old Thursday 31st March 2011, 09:53   #3
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Drove past Aberdeen harbour on the way home yesterday at 4.30. There were at least 8 BN dolphins hunting in the channel including a mother a calf that were staying tightly together.

Probably more but very misty and I could only stop for a few seconds.

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Old Wednesday 6th April 2011, 14:56   #4
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Spent an hour talking to some students at the Torry Battery from 9am this morning. Thought we were not going to see any Dolphins but 10 appeared from the north and put on quite a good display at 955.

thanks for looking

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Old Wednesday 6th April 2011, 18:24   #5
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Hi Ian

Just wondered how often and when White-beaked Dolphins are sighted. I am a member of a group called Marinelife who are carrying out research on this species and are trying to catalogue individual dolphins and work out behavior patterns..so would be interested in any information you have.

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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 15:28   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian Hay View Post
Having followed threads for birds sighted in and around aberdeen i decided that it was time for one on the local whales and dolphins.

Aberdeen is, in my veiw, the best city in europe for watching whales and dolphins, other cities are great if you get on a boat or go to a headland 20miles away, but in Aberdeen you can go to the torry battery or don mouth on your lunch break and resonably expect to see Bottlenose Dolphins. On a clear day in summer you can also expect Minkie Whale, White Beaked Dolphins, Harbour Porps and in the last few years Risso's Dolphin. Humpback Whale and Orca are not quite annual sightings but not unusual (although never by me).

In addition their are also free trips to the northern isles available if you are interested in surveying whales, dolphins and seabirds. However, more of that in a later post.

If you have any sightings or questions please post or pm.

All the best

Ian
Have you seen white-sided at all? I think they're more regular on the west coast but I also read somewhere Shetland waters in mid summer offer the best opportunity. It's the gap on my British cetacean list!
I think there's an area between Shetland and the Faroes which is good for cetaceans generally, particularly WSD. I thought about the Faroes ferry but would probably be better off joining some kind of Shetland-based marine mammal survey. Maybe I'll spend a week or two up there when something's going on.

James
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 16:05   #7
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Sean

White Beaked dolphin appear about the 21st of June and stay until late august.
When they are here they are in good numbers with 40 to 50 not unusual from a headland. They are mainly seen close to shore between Aberdeen and Johnshaven. They are also regular from our ferry surveys further north.

Personally they my favourite as they look stunning and seam to love bow riding. However we are starting to see them less as they are generally a cold water species and the North Sea is warming.

James

AWS Dolphins are rare locally but we do see them around Fair Isle and I guess they account for most of our Dolphin sp. sightings in this area. I have seen them from the 'Norona' between Shetland and Faroes but this is not so easy as she no longer call into the UK

Hope this helps, let me know if you would like more details.

All the best

Ian
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Old Monday 18th April 2011, 12:20   #8
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Not updated for a while

Wednesday
Met with a Finnish Journalist at the Torry Battery and what a show the Dolphins put on. 25+ dolphins with tail slapping, breaching, bow riding. Lots of Calfs showing. A great sighting.

Thursday
Drove past the harbour and did not see any dolphins however a friend at the Harbour sent me this from later in the day

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lScX5z56SZo.

Today
8 dolphins in the harbour, quite subdued but it was low tide

Over the weekend a Kevin Hepworth saw a group of Risso's from the Bullars of Bucchan and good numbers of Porps.

All the best

Ian
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Old Monday 18th April 2011, 12:38   #9
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Nice video of the dolphins Ian. They were quite active late last week, particularly in the evenings. On some occasions they breach a lot more than usual - what is it that brings this on?

Also three Harbour Porpoises off Girdle Ness on Saturday.
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Old Monday 18th April 2011, 12:44   #10
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Andrew

Not sure but they do seem to be at their most active during April May before going off the boil in June.

Interesting that the Porps. seam to have reappeared, I suppose we have had some good calm weather over the last few days making them easier to spot.

All the best

Ian
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Old Monday 18th April 2011, 12:46   #11
Andrew Whitehouse
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Andrew

Not sure but they do seem to be at their most active during April May before going off the boil in June.

Interesting that the Porps. seam to have reappeared, I suppose we have had some good calm weather over the last few days making them easier to spot.

All the best

Ian
I often seem to see more porpoises when the dolphins aren't around. They keep their distance and only seem to come close in to shore in the absence of dolphins.
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Old Monday 18th April 2011, 15:12   #12
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Andrew

I don't blame them for keeping away!

Ian
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Old Monday 18th April 2011, 15:15   #13
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Kevin Hepworth sent me this email and was happy for me to share.

Ian


Morning all,

Just to let you know that Summer's here in Aberdeenshire. Official!

Was out and about for various watches this weekend. Had not 1, not 2 , but 3 species.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the now daily dose of bottlenose were feeding for several hours in Aberdeen Harbour entrance, so nothing out of the ordinary there. Must stop taking them for granted!

After not having seen any porpoise for a while, had a couple on Friday (in the same vicinity as the bottlenose dolphins - a couple of these were our deformed juveniles, so maybe less of a threat?) and some yesterday.

However, it was yesterday morning that really came into it's own. Account below.
After being woken at 3am by our youngest and my not being able to get back to sleep and with barely a drop of wind outside, I decided to go for a watch while the family slept, so it was up and off by 5.45am. I opted for Bullars of Buchan - to check out whether the puffins were in or not as I hadn't been down that end of Aberdeenshire for a while and There's always plenty of ornithological interest if the seas prove quiet. The car had a thin film of soft frost on it, but the day looked to be set to be a cracker and the sea looked inviting with that shimmering oily look to it in the sunrise. Somehow, you just seem to know when certain days are going to be it and this felt like my day.

It started well, had a male sparrowhawk flying alongside the passenger window at eye level for a couple of hundred yards as we descended towards Danestone, then a pair of roe deer off the Parkway and we still hadn't left the city bounds. By the time I was passing the Ythan Estuary, the frost had dissipated, leaving a heavy dew and a thin veneer of mist steaming off the dunes. An otter was visible fishing just upstream of the roadbridge and on any other day I might have stopped longer, but I was on a mission - puffin city!

Up the hill, there were several hundred pinkies feeding in the stubble and a couple of mad April hares (Grampian is often behind the rest of the UK) cavorting across the fields. Pulled into the carpark at B.o.B and boy was it nippy. The sun was now up, the sky was cloudless, the air was still and crystal sharp (I could even clearly see the snowfields 60 miles away on Lochnagar). Luckily, I still had a hat and gloves rolling around in the car boot, so donned those and found 'my hollow' on the cliffs. I have a vantage point 15 feet below the clifftop, which is suitable for everything except an easterly wind. This morning, despite the chill, it was already a suntrap and the winter woolies and jacket were soon discarded as it warmed up. The sea was mirror calm and littered with razorbills and guillemots as far as the eye could see along with several rafts of feeding gulls. It was definitely the day to be here, but then nothing, no fins breaking the surface and not even any puffins either. The self doubt crept in. Should I have stayed in the big city and just watched bottlenose? No I decided, this had to be the place to be. Something would happen and so it proved as a couple of grey seals lazed past at the foot of the cliffs, then a fin broke the surface, a porpoise, always nice to see. One of my favourites really despite their diminutive size and undemonstrative behaviour. The relaxed watching went on, a couple more porpoise, then further out, squadrons of gannets bagan passing. Activity was building up now, two porpoise became three. That's better, then a bit of commotion as a few auks scatteered to the four corners a mile or so out. Nothing doing, then a bit later, more scattering of auks.

There must be something I thought, then a few hundred metres further on, a distinct blow, then a tall fin. It surfaced again three or four times, then disappeared for several minutes. It was difficult to scale the animal and I was veering towards killer whale to be honest and the blood was pumping. Then a couple more animals surfaced a few hundred metres to the south of the first one, still the tall distinct fins, but little or no blow. A few gannets went past, and allowed a more realistic scale to be gleaned. Dolphins then, but what sort? The jizz felt wrong for bottlenose, so I tentatively wrote them out of the equation. What then? I suspected white beaked dolphins, but these would have been incredibly early for us (June onwards is more normal), but I knew Colin up in Caithness had had these recently (and rissos), so you never know.......

I kep watching, another single animal appeared, going south, with the distinct blow and there were two more further out heading south also, one two thirds size of the other. I watched for another hour or so as the animals appeared to be milling about, but still not offering more clues as to their identity. What was apparent was that they must be feeding because although they were apparently lazing about, even logging at times they seemed to be doing deep dives, disapppearing for 6-7 minutes at a time and the blows were bigger and in fairly rapid succession when the animals resurfaced. As six became three and three were lost to sight, they also seemed to drift closer to shore, maybe a kilometre out now. Still silhoutted in the bright sunshine, but at least I was sure they were rissos now as at least two of the three gave me the opportunity to see their distinctive outline as first the head and body appeared, before the fin rose out of the water. My first of the season, not as early as last year's blip when I saw some in March and more in keeping with previous years, although I'd never seen them at all in this region until around four or five years ago. The porpoise count was up to four closer in now and the rafts were breaking up and as my time was up, it was time to head off home as the family would be up.

The mammal theme concluded with a fox outside Newburgh and then it was breakfast and a welcome cup of coffee.

In contrast, yesterday afternoon I played football with my two boys and the acrobatic display from the ubiquitous bottlenose dolphins in the background barely raised an eyebrow. I really need to stop taking them for granted - for many others this would be a once in a lifetime experience.

Kevin

Last edited by Ian Hay : Monday 18th April 2011 at 15:24.
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Old Tuesday 19th April 2011, 13:08   #14
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this link is good for sightings

http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk...tsightings.php

Anyone else know of other websites which post a large number of sightings and are regularly updated?
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Old Tuesday 19th April 2011, 16:08   #15
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Volunteers wanted

For a number of years the East Grampian Coastal Partnership (Admin/Training), Aberdeen University(science/data), The Seawatch Foundation (Volunteers) and Northlink Ferries(the boat) have worked in Partnership to carry out transect surveys from Aberdeen to the Northern Isles. We are now looking for extra volunteers.

This involves carrying out surveys leaving Aberdeen about 6pm surveying until dark and again from first light arriving in Lerwick at 8am the leaving for Aberdeen at 6pm arriving at 8am.

You will be mainly looking for cetaceans but also recording birds etc. The trips are hard work but are free and you do get a cabin and food, plus a day in Shetland or Orkney.

A training day will be taking place in Aberdeen on the 7th of May. Please PM me of interested or put a question below.

Also if you are on Orkney and are interested in surveying the Pentland Firth Route please also contact me.

Finally I am hoping to place trip report in this forum if people are interested

With thanks

Ian Hay
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Old Thursday 21st April 2011, 19:15   #16
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I often seem to see more porpoises when the dolphins aren't around. They keep their distance and only seem to come close in to shore in the absence of dolphins.
I've mainly seen porpoises around Mull - once while on a walk near Tobermory, but also out on boat trips looking for cetaceans. They were present in pods of about 200, but they only came close to the boat when the engine was switched off and we drifted silently in the swell.

Contrast this with the Common Dolphins we saw that were much more active when the boat was going full steam ahead.

We didn't ever see dolphins and porpoises at the same location at the same time, although the porpoises were around Minke Whales each time we saw them.

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Old Thursday 21st April 2011, 20:37   #17
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new Blog post on my website (see below ) concerning Cetaceans from the Channel Crossings (or lack of them!)

keep the sightings coming guys - enjoying the updates...
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Old Monday 25th April 2011, 11:08   #18
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Hi Ian
I'd be interested in hearing any sightings in Aberdeenshire of that 'honarary cetacean' the Basking Shark. Last year we had an unprecedented run of sightings off the north end of RSPB Loch of Strathbeg reserve, with sightings on several dates in October peaking at a minimum of six on 16th - the highest number I have heard of in the North Sea in recent times.
It would be interesting to see if this was a one-off occurence or whether the species is becoming more regular off Aberdeenshire.
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Old Tuesday 26th April 2011, 08:03   #19
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Hi Ian

Enjoying the updates

I lead the Northeast Cetacean Project, monitoring cetacean distribution in the North Sea off Durham/Northumberland but concentrating particularly on White-beaked Dolphin.

cheers
martin
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Old Tuesday 26th April 2011, 13:59   #20
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Thanks for the replies, sadly I have not seen anything since the last post but as I have not seen the sea either it is not surprising, other Aberdeen bird focused updates have shown that the dolphins are still about at the harbour.

If you would like to hear more about our dolphins and the Torry Battery then I recommend a listen (via the BBC I-payer) to 'Out of Doors' at about 56 minutes. 'Out of Doors' is a really good BBC Scotland Radio programme that goes out early on a Saturday Morning.

JTweedie

I have also seen big numbers of Porps on the west coast, over in the east they are less predictable as they do what they can to stay away from the Bottlenose Dolphins. If fact I have been told that they have been known to swim well up river if the Dolphins arrive when they are at the harbour mouth.

Common Dolphins are rare but possibly increasing, we do see them from the ferry surveys in the Outer Moray Firth.

ta brandreth

Girdleness Orca - Possible, Garstang not so sure good luck on your quest

David

Good to hear from you, hope you are enjoying your new job. I would love to on seen the Rattery Sharks last year, thinking about to they could have been there before but without the right see conditions they would be hard to see. Will let you know if we get any more sightings.

I have seen Basking Sharks off of Fair Isle which really confused me until i realised what it was, due to the hight of the ferry it looked like two Guillemots swimming slowly forward with a demented Puffin quickly swimming from side to side behind them, staring at the see does strange things to the mind.

Martin

I would be interested to know more about your White-Beaked Dolphins as I have to admit they are my favourite. We tend to get them around the 21st of June and they stay for about 6 weeks. In the deeper water south of the city they can be seen closish to the shore. North of the city we only see them from the ferry, do you have a similar pattern?


So far I have no takers for the Norcet surveys, we will train you, they are free and you get to go to Shetland or Orkney, both of which are wonderful. My direct email is [email protected]. Please let me know if you are interested.

Hopefully I will be joining a creel boat for a few hours in the morning sailing from Aberdeen harbour so I should have many more sightings to report then.

Thanks for the comment, keep them coming

Ian
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Old Tuesday 26th April 2011, 14:20   #21
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Anyone else know of other websites which post a large number of sightings and are regularly updated?
Hi James,

Marine Life regularly update their sightings pages from the cross-channel route surveys and opportunistic surveys of the coastline:


http://www.marine-life.org.uk/charm-...ject-sightings

http://marinelife-charm3.blogspot.com/

Cheers
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Old Wednesday 4th May 2011, 14:29   #22
Ian Hay
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A message from Kevin Hepworth, Please note the map did not appear when I pasted the document, I will try to post a copy or a link shortly

Ian

I would disagree with this statement off the forum, 'We tend to get them around the 21st of June and they stay for about 6 weeks. In the deeper water south of the city they can be seen closish to the shore. North of the city we only see them from the ferry, do you have a similar pattern?'

and point out that white beaked dolphins have been recorded year round in Grampian waters, but peak sightings occur between June and September and also add that whilst the north of the city is watched much less than the south we have had an awful lot of success from the land from sites such as Cruden Bay, Bullars of Buchan, Forvie and Balmedie, although the animals do tend to be further out from the beach at Balmedie. As we head east around the corner into the Moray Firth past Fraserburgh, we have had patchy success seeing white beaks, with 150m off the cliffs at Troup Head being the furthest westwards I have seen them from the land.

Interestingly, north of the city I have also seen rissos in attendance with groups of whitebeaks, both from the land and from the NORCET ferry surveys, which is always worth bearing in mind when estimating numbers because a group of animals may not always be the same species.

The map below from the East Grampian Cetacean Report shows the spread of reported sightings, as well as highlighting where land based watching has been concentrated and also illustrating the fact that inshore vessel based surveys between Stonehaven and Aberdeen have been highly successful with white beaked dolphin encounters.

Cheers,

Kevin
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Old Thursday 5th May 2011, 18:49   #23
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Hi Ian

We have a quite similar pattern. WBD have now been recorded off Northumberland in every month except December, February and April, so it's likely they're off here all year round. Sightings increase from mid-June, July is the peak month and August/September are also good.

Sightings from land are relatively frequent, and we get plenty of reports from angling charter boats. We find them on our pelagics from time to time as well... http://www.northernexperiencewildlif...e-begins-at-40

cheers
martin

Quote:
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Martin

I would be interested to know more about your White-Beaked Dolphins as I have to admit they are my favourite. We tend to get them around the 21st of June and they stay for about 6 weeks. In the deeper water south of the city they can be seen closish to the shore. North of the city we only see them from the ferry, do you have a similar pattern?
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Old Monday 9th May 2011, 08:02   #24
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We had the Norcet training day on Sunday and the Dolphins in the Harbour put on a great show for us, 20 to 25 with lots of breaching, tail slapping etc. Quite a few calfs were present. Very impressive.

All the best

Ian

ps not to late to volunteer for whale and dolphin surveys to Shetland by the way
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Old Wednesday 11th May 2011, 15:23   #25
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Only a drive by viewing but lots of Dolphins jumping in the bay from the beach.

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