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Highland Ranger Service Caithness


Whale And Dolphin Watching In Highland - Leaflet Pdf

13 September 08
Would You Like To Help Whales and Other Sea Mammals?
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) Are Running A Course For Potential New Members
The recent events in the Black Isles near Inverness namely the stranding of a very large sperm whale, has highlighted the work of one of the dedicated marine mammal rescue teams in the country British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR).

BDMLR currently has a team of medics in the Caithness and Sutherland area, however with around 160 miles of Scottish coastline to cover, more medics are always needed.

During the Grey seal pupping season (Oct-Jan) the team has in excess of fifty calls from members of the public regarding sick and injured seal pups. In recent weeks they have been called to asses three Common seal pups, a trapped Minke whale calf and monitor a pod of dolphins. The work is interesting and varied giving medics the opportunity to visit some of the beautiful Caithness and Sutherland coastline and at the same time helping these wonderful mammals.

BDMLR are running a training course for new medics on 27 September 2008 at Lybster.  The day long course gives the new team members the initials skills needed to asses whales, dolphins and seals on the beach. Then running through the practical skills needed to re-float stranded whales and dolphins where it is practical and appropriate.

To find out more or book a place on the course visit the training section of the BDMLR web site www.bdmlr.org.uk or phone Sue White on :- 01825-765546

For local information you could call Richard the Golspie to Durness area Coordinator on 07768315216. To report a stranding or seal in difficulty call the national number which is manned 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Seawatch National Whale and Dolphin Week In Caithness

The Annual Seawatch Foundation National Whale and Dolphin Week started on Saturday 23rd. Even with the poor weather the planned watch at the caravan site in Thurso went ahead with a single Porpoise seen in Thurso Bay. Sightings were made earlier in the day by Karen Munro who saw a Minke Whale, Porpoise, and some unidentified Dolphins. During the watch I received a call from Dave Nicolson over at the Whaligoe steps who saw 3 big cetaceans quite possibly Minkes, one had been seen at Sarclet, Thrumpster during the afternoon. But the star of the weekend was not a cetacean but a fish, a Basking Shark. Very few of these creatures are seen off the East Coast of Caithness they prefer water temp between 8-14c.
This one was seen 1/2 mile off Lybster by local fisherman Colin Carter from Latheronwheel. Colin had seen the Shark on Thurs 21st Fri 22nd and again on the 24th. These gentle giants are normally 20 - 26 feet long and filter plankton from the sea and have a very wide mouth that can measure over 3 ft when fully open.
Many Thanks to Colin Carter for sending the Picture.
Colin Bird

Hoy Trip - Killer whales 21 May 2006


14 July 05
Killer Whales Spotted Near Stroma
Alistair Jack took these pictures last night off the coast off Stroma.  the seals who rest near the site of the Bettina Danica ship wreck were obviously under threat with the whales right in at their favourite ledge


11 July 05
Whales Spotted Off The Coast At Melvich From The Air
Whilst out flying around the county on Friday evening Alan Moar and his brother John ventured out west and caught these photos of some whales about half a mile to a mile out from the coastline near Melvich. They saw more whales in the area between Melvich and Dounreay and were quick enough with the camera to catch them as they went past


6 July 05
From Mary Legg - Highland Ranger - Whales Being spotted On The North Coast
I've just had a phone call from Paul Castle, North Sutherland Ranger, telling us about the excellent views of cetaceans along the north coast at the moment.  The waters in Melvich Bay right along to Strathy point have been busy with whales and dolphins for the last couple of weeks and the calm conditions today are making viewing really easy. Paul spotted several Minke whales and dolphins on his way across to work today. We wouldn't want folk to drive by and miss such a good opportunity to spot

4 July 05
Minke Whales Spotted In Thurso Bay Today
Karen Munro sptted some Minkie whales in Thurso Bay, near Murkle point again today at 1615hrs. Also saw some off Dounreay at lunch time, and they have been in Thurso bay every calm night for the last week and a half.


National Whale & Dolphin Watch with the Highland Council Ranger Service
Did you know there are regular sightings of whales & dolphins around the Sutherland & Caithness coastline at this time of year?
Join the ranger service in a national Seawatch on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th of August at the following venues:
Saturday STRATHY POINT: Meet at lighthouse car park at 10.30 am.
Sunday LYBSTER COAST: Meet at Lybster Heritage Centre (harbour) 12 noon.
Please wear warm/waterproof outdoor clothes, stout footwear. Bring binoculars, if you have them, a snack and thermos. Please allow 2 hours.   ! Please note that this event is weather dependent!!

23 June 04
Whales Spotted

2 September 03
No Whales For Whale Watch Near Lybster
The ranger service organised a cetacean watch as part of the national whale and dolphin watch which was taking place all over Britain.  24 people turned out for the event on Sunday 31 August but unfortunately whales nor dolphins were spotted.  2 groups of porpoise were seen.  Marina Finlayson saw 2 minke whales very close to shore the previous Friday but they did not turn up for the event!


30th & 31st August 2003
Want to take part?  Then grab your binoculars and head for the coast!
Your nearest manned site/s:
Strathy Point (lighthouse) 10.30 am Saturday 30th August
Gills Bay (Lay-by overlooking bay) 10.30 am Sunday 31st August
Just Added
Lybster Coast (meet harbour) 2pm Sunday 31st
Your local co-ordinator is:  Highland Council Ranger Service. Tel: 01847 821531
For more details and a species guide
Visit: www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk

2002 - 2003
UK Report on Cetacean Watch Weekend 2 August 2002
Results from Caithness. Saturday; Dunnet Bay Group 29 July 2002
of 5-7 bottlenose between claredon head and east of Holborn head. they appeared to come in with the P & 0 ferry.They have been in Dunnet bay this past week since the Wednesday and have had good views of them. More or less sure they are the same animals though can`t be certain.
We also looked from gills bay mid morning but only one person thought they saw a fin of something and that`s it.  SUN a.m. Strathy point terrible conditions wet and harr. but one dolphin seen thought to be a bottlenose just off shore. pm watched from lybster still raining but no mists. nothing seen.

WHALE SURVEY 2000/2001
North/North East coast of Scotland

Results  of survey  4 February 2002
For further information contact the Ranger Service Tel 01847 821531

Getting There
Click here for a map of Dunnet Bay Area
Very easy to find.  The Ranger Base is on the coast road at the caravan/camp site at Dunnet.

Date of survey was from April 2000 to March 31st 2001
Cetacean is the name given to whales, dolphins and porpoises. It does not include sharks or seals. The N/NE coast of Scotland is comparatively rich in cetaceans with more than 30% of the UK fauna being recorded regularly since 1980. A total of sixteen species have been recorded along the coast or in the near shore waters. Eight of the commonest species are either present all year round or are regular visitors and on featured on this site. Whale survey 2000 follows a successful project run by Highland Council (H.C.) Ranger Service (Assynt) in association with Assynt Field Club. It is being coordinated by H.C. Ranger Service and the Northern Studies Centre.

This guide has been written to accompany the 2000 N/NE Coast Cetacean Survey. It will show you how to go about looking for cetaceans and what key identifying points to look for when spotting a whale, dolphin or porpoise.

More information is desperately needed about the status, distribution and movements of these mammals in our waters so we would ask you to send us records of any sightings you make.

What to look for:

Estimate the general size.

Porpoise <1.8m

Dolphin 2.4-4m

Killer,Pilot & Minke whale 5-10m

Humpback,Sperm whale >10m

Look for the dorsal fin on its back, and note how far down its back it occurs. Some large whales do not have a dorsel fin while others, like Minke whales, have a very small dorsal fin two-thirds the way down their backs.

Note the general size and shape of the dorsal fin. Is it upright like the Killer whale or sickle shaped like the Common dolphin or perhaps triangular like a Common porpoise?

Look for whale blows. Jets of water blown from the whale's nostril are important to identify larger whales. How high is the blow? Is it single or double? Is it vertical or pointing forward?

Note any characteristic behavior. Some species will jump out of the water or bow ride in front of boats for example.

The commonest cetacean around British waters and the most frequently sighted round here. It is often seen in small family groups in inshore bays such as Dunnet or Gills Bay and in the Pentland Firth, peaking July-October. Also in nearshore waters off Faraid head and Cape Wrath. It is easy to identify because of its small size, less than 1.8m long. However it is a shy retiring species and the most usual sighting is just a blip of its triangular dorsal fin. It rarely bow rides in front of boats.

The species of 'flipper' fame. Famous resident of the inner Moray Firth area (the most northerly resident group in the world). Rarer outside this area with very occasional sightings. Almost uniform grey apart from skin lesions noted in many of the Moray Firth specimens. Belly is slightly paler than the back. Size 2-2.4m Bottlenose dolphin are very playful and like to bow ride. They can be seen in-groups of varying sizes.

Striped dolphin, 1.95 - 2.4m, rarely observed, as it tends to prefer offshore waters where it will bow ride boats and leap acrobatically. Diagnostic features are grey flanks dividing a dark back and pale belly, distinctive, thin black stripe, extending from the dark beak, around the eye to the underside of the rear flank of the animal. Occasionally seen in very large numbers of several hundreds.

Another playful, very acrobatic dolphin that occurs in small groups. 2.7m long. It is dark above with a white belly and a white mark on its side not extending beyond the dorsal fin. A yellow ochre blaze on the flanks near the fluke and a paler blaze along the flanks extending to the beak help to identify the species. It has a short beak and relatively large sickle-shaped dorsal fin.

This is quite a common dolphin especially in late summer when mackerel shoals move towards the coast. Then they can be seen in large numbers. At 3m long, they are easy to identify with their white beak, and, when they jump clear of the water, their white sides and white rump behind the large sickle-shaped dorsal fin. They like bow riding boats.

This robust, larger species of dolphin is generally very pale (silvery grey) in body colour, with darker fin, flukes and flippers. The dorsal fin is relatively large and sickle-shaped. Close up, scarring caused by other dolphins can be seen particularly in older animals. They are commonest during the late summer months when feeding on squid, their main food. They are 3.5m long with large bulbous heads.

This striking cetacean can be seen anytime, but especially during summer from June to September when they feed on seals, birds and fish. They swim in small groups, rarely singly. They are easy to identify with their long upright dorsal fins and pointed heads. They are black with obvious white patches behind the eye and base of the dorsal fin, while the smaller female has a dorsal fin slightly back pointing.

Nearly always in compact schools, they are almost all black in colour with bulbous cylindrical heads and very large dorsal fins and flippers. They are 5-6m long and eat mainly squid but will follow shoals of mackerel.

The commonest of all the whales and regularly seen in offshore waters with sightings peaking around August. At 9m long they are small for a whale. Their long back and tiny dorsal fin two-thirds the way down the back is quite distinctive - as well as the white flippers. They are often associated with flocks of gulls. A dive sequence of surface, blow and roll with the dorsal fin briefly appearing, two-thirds down the back, before diving, is diagnostic.

The best places on land to whale watch are headlands such as Cape Wrath, Strathy Point, Holborn Head, Dunnet Head, Noss Head and the Pentland Firth where strong currents bring in prey species such as herring, mackerel and squid. Pick a calm day with good visibility out to sea. If the sea is rough with lots of white water you may as well give up.

Be prepared to sit patiently for a couple of hours constantly scanning out to sea with binoculars or telescope. It is usually best to watch 2 hours before sunset or 2 hours after dawn as the light will be better for seeing. Look out for gulls congregating in a feeding frenzy above a shoal of mackerel or herring.

The most useful information will be obtained if you regularly got to one site and watch 2-3 hours once a month or more. Make sure you record weather, the state of the sea, and what you see. Remember all information is important, even days when you see nothing.

It is also possible to see other species that have been recorded in the area but not illustrated on this page which include: Humpback whale, Beluga, Sperm whale, Northern bottlenosed whale, Sowerby's whale, Sei whale, Common dolphin and False killer whale.

Recording forms and further details can be obtained from the address below.

All information and sightings should be sent to:

Highland Council Ranger Service
Dunnet Pavillion
KW14 8XD
Tel: 01847 821531
Last date for acceptance of records is May 2001.

All reports of live strandings should be made to British Divers Marine Life Rescue, Tel: 0385 738671. Dead cetaceans should be reported to S.A.C, Tel: 01463 243030. All records will be forwarded to Seawatch Foundation.

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