Big leap in the number of Moray Firth’s wildlife stars
A RARE breed of dolphin in Scotland’s waters – and the world’s most northerly population of the species – has hit record numbers.
Bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth, a hugely popular tourist attraction, are now estimated at almost 200, about double the number from the late 1990s.
An increase in salmon and mackerel stocks, part of the dolphins’ staple diet, is being put down to the increase in the numbers of the North Sea’s only population of the species.
Charlie Phillips, of the Highland-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, who has been monitoring the animals for years, said he had recently seen a pod of 20 individuals, including seven calves, in the Beauly Firth and Kessock Channel, near Inverness.
“I haven’t counted that many dolphins here for nearly 15 years,” he said. “Let’s hope this dolphin trend continues.”
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which recently commissioned a study into the condition of the bottlenose population in the Moray Firth, believes the north and east coast of Scotland is now home to around 195 dolphins. The figure stood at between 100 and 130 in the late 1990s.
The “smiling” dolphins, one of the most recognisable in Scotland, are a major tourism boost, with visitors keen to catch a glimpse of their spectacular jumps from the water.
Aberdeen University has carried out more than two decades of monitoring using photographic analysis of individuals’ dorsal fins and other identifying characteristics.
Morven Carruthers, SNH policy and advice officer, said: “We can say with some confidence that the population of bottlenose dolphins on the east coast of Scotland is stable, or increasing.
“However, this population is considered vulnerable due to being small and isolated from other populations.”
He said they were a “special part” of Scotland’s nature and wildlife and a major tourist attraction, and it was encouraging numbers holding up.
“Monitoring will continue to observe the dolphins and help ensure that they do well,” he added.
The Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation extends from the inner firths to Helmsdale to the north and Lossiemouth to the south. Bottlenose dolphins are protected under the EU Habitats Directive.
Kathryn Logan, manager of the Moray Firth Partnership, said that the Dolphin Space Programme (DSP), which promotes dolphin-watching activities, enables exciting wildlife experiences while helping to protect the bottlenose population.
“As the tourist season is gearing up, we encourage everyone to watch by using one of the accredited tour boat operators under the DSP, or by watching from the shore,” she said.
“Even small recreational boats and canoes can cause a disturbance to dolphins and other wildlife, so sticking to the code of conduct will help make sure no disturbance occurs.”
The Moray Firth bottlenose dolphins vary physically to their relations in warmer climates such as the Caribbean and Indian or Pacific oceans. They are a lot bigger and fatter – four metres as opposed to 2.5m – due to the because of the large percentage of blubber they have in their bodies to insulate them from the colder water of the North Sea.
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