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   WHALE Watch UK 2002


A little over 200 sites were manned around the British Isles including Northern Ireland, from Hermaness in Shetland down to Jersey in the Channel Islands and Isles of Scilly in Cornwall. Around one thousand people participated, with groups of as many as 20-30 attending some sites. Systematic watches were carried out from the land-based sites whilst others went to see on a variety of vessels from yachts to oil rig supply vessels and ferries. The prime aim was simply to raise public awareness of whales and dolphins around the British Isles, although we also hoped it would provide a useful 'snapshot' of the coastal distribution of different species in late July.

Saturday morning dawned fine and calm in many areas, and the first sightings had been reported already by 05:30 by Andy Tait, with porpoises seen opposite the Farne Islands at Bamburgh in Northumberland, and other early morning sightings, one as early as 04:30 of porpoises from Cley-next-Sea, Norfolk and shortly after from the entrance to the River Ribble in North-west England and at. In several regions, the weather then took a turn for the worse with wind increasing and the sea becoming quite rough in places. The west coast of Scotland and Hebrides had poor weather most of the day with wind and rain although this did not stop reports of porpoises and minke whales from around Mull, the Small Isles and, further north, in Gairloch. Two groups of bottlenose dolphins were sighted from the Cal Mac ferry south of Skye early in the morning, but then the weather closed in.

Sunday started similarly along the east coast of Britain with calm seas becoming rougher as the day progressed. The west coast of Scotland had very poor weather most of the day, with winds of force 4 or more, rain and mist, but in the evening this cleared in places and the sea flattened out. In Wales and Southern England, it was a generally good day, with very calm seas along the south coast especially.

Harbour porpoises have been the most frequently and widely reported species, occurring at most sites watched along the east coast of Scotland and North-east England south to Orford Ness and Kessingland beach on the Suffolk coast. On the west coast of Scotland south to West Wales and the north Devon coast, porpoises have been sighted at most localities watched. The main areas where the species has not been reported, despite systematic watches being conducted at a number of locations are from Kent and the south coast.

Second most frequently reported species has been the bottlenose dolphin with sightings off the west coast of Scotland near the Isles of Skye and Rum and in the Solway Firth, and on the north and east Scottish coasts from Caithness south to St Andrews Bay and the Tay Estuary. In England, small groups have been seen at several localities in the northern Irish Sea including around the Isle of Man, and in South-west England off the north Somerset, Devon and Cornish coasts, and in south Devon. The simultaneous distribution of widely separated small groups of bottlenose dolphins throughout the UK is particularly interesting. With the summer population of more than 200 bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay, west Wales being reported in only small numbers, it suggests that this population may have dispersed over a wide area of the Irish Sea with animals possibly ranging to South-west England. We already know that the Moray Firth population can range down to the Firth of Forth (and even Northumberland coast), and this certainly was reflected in the sightings over the weekend. The most easterly sighting of bottlenose dolphins in Southern Britain was at Selsey Bill in West Sussex, and the most southerly sightings were in Jersey, Channel Islands, where several small groups were seen.

The third most frequently reported species has been the minke whale. All sightings so far have been from Scotland - on the west coast around the islands of Mull, Rum and Eigg, and in Gairloch, and on the east coast in the Moray Firth off Tarbat Ness.

Common dolphins were sighted west of Pembrokeshire during surveys just prior to the weekend and over the weekend itself have been seen in the Celtic Sea and also near Ilfracombe, Somerset, off Lands End, and in South-west Scotland from the ferry operating between Oban and Craignure on the Isle of Mull.

White-beaked dolphins were seen off Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, and have just been reported also from the Northumbrian coast during the weekend, but so far have not been reported from the Northern Isles or any other part of Northern Scotland where this species usually is regular in summer.

Four sightings of Risso's dolphins have been reported over the weekend: a mixed group of Risso's and bottlenose dolphins were observed in Jersey, a single individual was seen at Porthgwarra in West Cornwall, a group halfway across the Irish Sea from the ferry running between Holyhead and Dublin, and another in the Irish Sea near Wexford.

There have been two sightings of killer whales, one of a pod of six from North Ronaldsay in Orkney on Saturday, and the other of a single animal six miles south of Burrow Head in Dumfries and Galloway on the same day.

Finally, there has been one sighting of long-finned pilot whales west of the Channel Islands from the ferry operating between Roscoff and Plymouth.

The last sighting of the weekend was reported by Ian Birks from Gairloch in North-west Scotland. In his words: "Ann and I are sitting at home, Ann with a glass of Red, both with binoculars, though little need to use them as we have a minke whale 500m from our lounge window feeding, circling at sand eels to the dismay of gannets. Sightings start at 21:54 as this one homed in on the gannets, still watching at 22::08. Can anyone beat this as the most comfortable, pleasurable whale watch in Britain? Lovely, sunny, calm evening, great sightings, wish you were here. Oh dear, now there are three Porpoises as wellŠ."

Anyone with sightings to add, please e-mail us on [email protected]. We will provide a final review shortly (a number of records have yet to be entered, and as I write, records are still coming in and have yet to be checked and plotted). Please look at the web site (<www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk>) for regular updates to the list of sightings.

A big thank you to Jilly Giffen for so ably co-ordinating the weekend, to BG and DEFRA for funding support, and to Faygate Printing for printing the brochure free of charge.

And, finally, thanks so much to all of you who supported this weekend, and to those of you who took groups of people out to sites to watch and conveyed your local knowledge through radio and TV interviews.

I will be in touch again in due course when all the records have been received and analysed.

All the very best,

Peter Evans

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