We take a look back at the world of whales and dolphins during July.
During normal circumstances, the ORCA spring and summer season is filled with countless wonderful whale and dolphin sightings, but as we all know 2020 has been a very different year. Refreshingly we were able to run ORCA OceanWatch week albeit in a limited capacity thanks to a number of remote support workers who were out at sea including bridge crews and offshore personnel who recorded an astonishing amount of wildlife. We have also heard about so many sightings during the month so we thought we would share a roundup of all the wonderful encounters and marine mammal news that happened in July.
A superpod of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) were seen in the Solent where approximately 100 dolphins were seen by two friends on a beautiful day when the sea was calm and crystal clear, watch the video here. Common dolphins, as the name suggests are one of the numerous cetacean species across our oceans, numbering at ca. six million individuals.
Fishermen saw a breaching humpback whale (Megaptera novaengilae) in Lyme Bay, Devon, which was one of several sightings off the South West coastline throughout July, watch the video here. Humpback whales are one of the most energetic of the larger whales and are regularly observed breaching, lob-tailing, and slapping their long pectoral fins on the surface.
A bottlenose dolphin that disappeared from Scottish waters has shown up off the coast of the Isle of Man. The dolphin, who was named Moonlight was last seen in the Moray Firth in 2018. Moonlight gave birth in Manx waters in September 2019 but was only identified by the University of Aberdeen team following a recent post online, stressing how important it is to record and share your sightings data, read the full article here. Bottlenose dolphins in the UK are the largest of their species, storing more blubber to maintain their core body temperature to survive in the colder waters. We are sure Moonlight will be fattening her calf up ready for the cold winter season in British waters.
We also have to had to mention the incredible sightings of orca or killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Shetland and across the Hebrides in recent weeks. We have been astounded and awe-struck at some of the amazing photos shared on social media and the identification of specific individuals from different groups. Particularly, Hulk and Nótt who are two of the animals which come to Scotland to hunt seals between April and August and feed on Herring during winter in Iceland. You can see a full ID catalogue of these individual orcas here.
On the conservation front: at the start of July, we heard a positive announcement that Iceland will cease whaling fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) in its waters and for the second year in a row all whale hunting was called off for the season. Iceland, along with Norway and Japan are well known for not adhering to the ban on commercial whaling set by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Fin whales are the second-largest animal that lives today and are a primary target in the Iceland market, for locals and to export to Japan. Please read more about this story in an article by our patron Mark Carwardine here.
Midway through the month, we heard that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List changed the status of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) from ‘endangered’ to ‘critically endangered’ and the species were considered to be “one step from extinction”. The status change reflects the fact that fewer than 250 mature individuals probably remain in a population of roughly 400. Of that, there may be less than 100 females of breeding age alive today, and the mortality rate of new-born calves has been very high in recent years. Although this new classification is disheartening it means that there may be more policy and legislation implemented to aid in the recovery of the species. A rogue sighting of a North Atlantic right whale in the Bay of Biscay was also announced by the Sea Watch Foundation in July showing that more research needs to be done to ascertain their full range and the effects of climate change on the species as this may be the cause of this unusual sighting.
North Atlantic right whale numbers were decimated during the whaling era, as they were considered the “right” whale to hunt, this was due to the carcasses floating making them easier to tow back to shore, hence their name. Current threats these magnificent leviathans are facing are entanglement, noise pollution and ship strike. As these animals are slow-moving, ship strike is considered the main threat. To help protect the species speed restriction zones have been implemented in certain areas, such as the Gulf of St. Lawrence. ORCA is also doing work to aid in predicting animal movements concerning close encounters with vessels in a way to help bridge crews act correctly if a whale is seen close-by, read more about our ship strike work here.
Unfortunately, there have been numerous stranding’s throughout the month from a fin whale on the Orkney Isles to the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) on the Isle of Wight. A great big well done and thank you from us all at ORCA to everyone involved who helped try to save these animals. Read more about these strandings here.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank you all, especially our members, volunteers, and partners for helping us through this difficult time and we hope you are all safe and well. As always our focus is on the protection of whales and dolphins in our waters and we are working in the background striving for our mission ‘Oceans alive with whales and dolphins’. We will update all of our supporters about our operations as soon as we can. Please keep an eye on our website, Facebook and Twitter, for further updates and ORCA news.