An estimated 400 plus short-beaked common dolphins were sighted, in a massive migration northwards into the North Sea, by scientists and volunteers from Earthwatch.
The Earthwatch team was headed by Dr. Kevin Robinson, director and co-founder of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit (CRRU). The sighting, about ten miles off the Banffshire coast, was significant on three counts.
Dr. Robinson says: "Firstly, the sheer number of dolphins was astounding - there were common dolphin everywhere around us over a two-mile radius. Furthermore, this was only the second sighting in the past few years of such a ‘super-pod' of this species in these waters. The first sighting in ten years was recorded here in July 2007 when we were joined by more than 300 animals in the outer Moray Firth. Since then we have not seen them, although smaller groups have been identified by co-workers from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society on opportunistic boat surveys. Common dolphin super-pods are known to exist in other parts of the UK, and there have been sightings in the Western Isles, but few in these waters to date. Thirdly, this is further scientific evidence that populations of dolphins are moving further north because of climate change."
The arrival of the short-beaked common dolphins in the Moray Firth confirms that local sea temperatures are rising. This species is typically found in warmer temperate waters around the British Isles.
Dr. Robinson adds: "I am convinced that changing sea temperatures will result in a redistribution of marine mammals, but I am confident of their survival. Whales and dolphins are opportunistic animals that will take advantage of their surroundings and relocate if necessary."
The short-beaked common dolphin, an attractively striped animal which prefers warmer waters than the North Sea, typically grows to about eight feet, and is known for its fast swimming and energetic acrobatics. Earthwatch volunteers had been monitoring dolphin and whale populations in the Moray Firth for eight days, and had only seen a few animals when the sudden appearance of the common dolphin pod took them totally by surprise.
The team included volunteers from the UK, US and Scandinavia, who all said they were amazed by the experience. Christina Gore, a 61- year-old retired speech and language therapist from Shropshire, said: "They were all jumping everywhere, hundreds of them. The water was boiling with animals. It was incredibly exciting. They were swimming under the boat and leaping alongside us. There were older animals doing back-flips, and there were even newborn calves swimming along with the group."
Debbie Greenberg, a 40-year-old pharmacist from Illinois, said: "It was the most incredible experience in my life - well worth coming thousands of miles to see. The Moray Firth really is quite the most remarkable setting for this Earthwatch project and I can't recommend it enough to other folk!"
Find out more about the Earthwatch expedition Whales and Dolphins of Moray Firth.
Read more about Earthwatch research in Scotland: Research reveals new distance record for British dolphins.
- Established in 1997, the CRRU is a small non-profit dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Scottish waters through scientific investigation, environmental education, and the provision of professional veterinary assistance to sick, stranded and injured individuals.
A huge pod of a dolphin species rarely seen in the Moray Firth suggests that dolphin populations are moving increasingly further north in search of food and breeding grounds as a result of climate change.