High number of dolphin and whale sightings in North-east

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RSPB Scotland’s popular Dolphinwatch project celebrates a 100 per cent success rate for marine mammal sightings this summer.

The team of staff and volunteers running Dolphinwatch at Torry Battery recorded dolphins, whales or porpoises every day they were on site between May 10 and August 19 this year.

This represents the most regular sightings since RSPB Scotland began running viewing activities in 2013 and shows a 14 per cent increase on last year’s dolphin sightings.

Aberdeen Harbour is becoming a well-known destination to view bottlenose dolphins and these charismatic mammals were witnessed on all but three days of the dolphin viewing this year.

On the three “no-dolphin days”, the Dolphinwatch team and visitors were lucky to experience rare encounters with minke whales, harbour porpoises and even a distant humpback whale.

RSPB Scotland and partners have been growing the project over the last six years, offering free use of telescopes and binoculars and running activities every Thursday to Sunday during the summer months, to raise awareness of the importance of the area for marine wildlife and how people can protect it.

Over this period, sightings of bottlenose dolphins have occurred on between 80 and 90 per cent of days with a previous high of 95 per cent in 2014. This year marks the first ever 100 per cent success rate for sightings of cetaceans (the umbrella term for whales and dolphins), and equals the highest ever dolphin success rate of 95 per cent.

Laura Watson, Dolphinwatch visitor experience officer for RSPB Scotland, said: “The high number of sightings confirm that Aberdeen is one of the best and most reliable places in Europe to see bottlenose dolphins. Since May, thousands of visitors have been amazed by their gravity-defying leaps, tail-slapping and bow riding.

“On average, the pod sizes have included around 14 individuals and we have been lucky to witness a very reliable group of five led by our recognisable visitor known as Fitri or Quasimodo. There have also been occasions when we have witnessed groups of over 30 animals feeding and surfing the waves.”

Sightings this year have also included harbour porpoises, minke whales and a humpback whale which a volunteer noticed and Laura subsequently identified.

In addition to marine mammals, Torry Battery is a haven for birds and mammals, with a total of 72 different species observed this summer.

Laura added: “We have been wowed by the variety of bird life we’ve seen including ospreys, gannets, cormorants, curlews and even a puffin out at sea. An otter has been spotted several times too, but, for me, the real highlight of the season came at 5.45pm on Saturday, July 21, when everyone was thrilled to see three minke whales pass by!

“Our visitors were in awe and the whole team were almost vibrating with excitement. The moment only lasted a few minutes but it was truly one of the most memorable moments on site.”

The viewing activities at Torry Battery are just part of the wider Dolphinwatch project which includes events, beach cleans, a soon-to-launch schools’ programme and a festival next summer.