Cetaceans

phminkewhale2The Firth of Lorne, Special Area of Conservation (SAC), is one Britain’s hot-spots for sighting whales, dolphins and their close relatives porpoise. We work closely with, and indeed report all our sightings to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

You will often hear wildlife experts refer to this family as Cetaceans (pronounced see-tay-shuns). They are in fact not fish, but air breathing mammals, as you or I.

Separated into two main groups, one of which filter minute algae through special plates in the mouth (referred to as Baleen whales), and the second taking larger seafood through their toothed-mouths (called toothed-whales).

All Whales and Dolphins give birth to their youngsters tail first. This allows the new-born infant to swim immediately to the surface to take its first breath. There are over thirty species inhabiting British waters, and below you will find more information on the most frequently encountered species.

Harbour Porpoise

daporpoiseWe encounter the cute, little, harbour (or common) porpoise throughout the year and they are seen on most of our Summer trips. In fact The Firth Of Lorne SAC is such a rich place for this delightful species, that they are one of the reasons the area has received its conservation status.

An adult porpoise is about the same height and weight as ourselves, and can live for up to 20 years.

More than 10,000 Harbour Porpoise are accidentally caught in fishing nets in British waters each year, a trend that threatens the survival of the species. It is therefore very encouraging that fishermen within this area now use special creels (similar to lobster pots) instead of monofilament nets (‘walls of death’) in order to protect our local population of porpoises.

It used to be believed that porpoise had power over the winds, and would predict storms by gamboling about. The old sailors expression used to be “When the Sea-Hog (Porpoise) Jumps, man the pumps”!

Common Dolphin

dadolphinsWidely accepted as amongst the most intelligent of all animals, dolphins are regularly spotted moving in schools of 10 or more. In fact, schools of hundreds and even over a thousand are sometimes reported.

These fish eating mammals dive to a depth of 300 metres, and will usually stay submerged for between 10 seconds and two minutes, however they are capable of staying underwater for anything up to eight minutes, before returning to the surface to breath.

The two metre long common dolphin weighs around 110 kilos, and has black sides and upper flanks, with broad yellow and white on its lower sides, fading to grey towards the tail.

Bottlenose Dolphin

dadolphins2At nearly twice the length of the common dolphin and five times as heavy, the bottlenose dolphin has a short beak and protruding lower jaw, giving the appearance of having a cheeky grin. Its high dorsal fin is situated in the middle of its back, which is a more subdued brownish-grey, with paler underparts.

These inquisitive dolphins are usually seen in smaller groups of ten or so animals, swimming at around 2 miles per hour, but can reach up to 20 m.p.h. if alarmed. The babies, called calves, are born in the summer months, and stay with their mother for up to six years.

Risso’s Dolphin

daminkewhalefeedingThe blunt, rounded and beak-less head are the most distinguishing features of Risso’s Dolphin. At nearly four metres long, and with a long, sickle-shaped fin, these dolphin’s are a similar sized to Bottlenose Dolphins, however they can appear even larger because of their shape. These slow, graceful swimmers are usually seen near to the coastline.

Orca

daorcasDespite its alternative name, the Orca, or Killer Whale, is in fact a member of the Dolphin family. A small pod of this rare and beautiful creature lives in the Hebrides, and a chance encounter can never be ruled out. With its very large dorsal fin, and white and black patterning, this is perhaps the most distinctive cetacean encountered on our trips.

Minke Whale

phminkewhaleThe Latin name for this, the smallest of the baleen whales, means ‘sharp-snouted’, and this is a very accurate description.

Weighing in at eight tons, this gentle giant of West Coast waters is very regularly seen during our summer and autumn boat trips. They are often seen during our 2 hour trips, but to ensure the best opportunity for thrilling encounters, we would recommend a four, or six hour trip.

Our Skipper’s 16 years experience of such encounters and intimate knowledge of the best locations gives you the greatest chance of seeing these impressive leviathans. The young whales are especially inquisitive, and often come very close, and indeed under the boat, as if to show they are as curious about us as we are about them.

When the whales are feeding on bait balls (shoals of small fish) we see accompanying rafts of frenzied seabirds, wheeling and diving, as they feed on the fish forced to the surface by the whale’s feeding activity.

White-beaked Dolphin

A medium sized dolphin, with a black body and white throat and belly. This dolphin has a short, white beak. We have seen these dolphin’s forming a mixed group (or pod) with Bottlenose Dolphins.

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