• Paul Sharman

Monday's marvels of the sea

Another days of superlatives here in Stornoway with the streak of near perfect sea conditions and abundant marine wildlife sightings continuing. What next? We've had some incredible sightings recently and yet another very special one today. It's even been hot and sunny, though that's a mixed blessing resulting in sore spotting eyes due to glare. We had several guests from France today as well as some local Scottish seafarers.

On the sea bird front we were once again treated to good views of puffins..guillemots..black guillemots..razorbills..gannet..kittiwakes..shags..artic skuas..bonxies and a smattering of manx shearwaters for good measure!

Porpoise were very shy today despite the great sea state..and we only saw a few. There were some bottling seals..snoozing out in the deeps..and we had some fantastic views of several minke whales including clear sights of their lunge surfacing feeding behaviour plus the "chevron" markings on their backs, and 4 or 5 spectacular breaches of an almost certain minke where some of us saw the whole animal fly out of the water and make huge splashes even though it was a long way from us.

But today's outstanding encounter award goes out to an incredible meeting with 2 of the larger dolphin species. We first spotted the distinctive large fins with pale blazes of adult Risso's about a km away. But 2 minkes kept on distracting us!! On closer inspection & with the help of my fellow guide Muriel's big lens it became apparent that there was at least 1 hybrid bottlenose/Risso's dolphin in the mix, and later we discovered some possible hybrid juveniles (watch this space).

Then there were dolphins all around and bottlenose dolphins started bowriding with the boat, whilst clearly associating with the Risso's dolphins, chorus lining together and sometimes both species leaping, though the Risso's didnt decide to come right up to the boat. On the bow of Monadhliath you could hear dolphin clicks and squeaks as the bottlenoses decided to stay with us for some precious minutes. Due to their scarring, and general raggedy appearance it seems that these are most likely the " offshore" type of bottlenose, as opposed to the more well known "resident" ones such as the "Barra boys" pod or the Moray Firth dolphins.

What an encounter and one that we really hope can help science and our understanding. We will be contacting the scientists at WDC and HWDT with our photos and data once more as soon as we can (and of course log all sightings during the trip using the Whale Track app). There are still so many things we don't know - do the 2 species speak the same language? - are the hybrids fertile? - why do they associate together, etc.? Hopefully Nicola Hodgkins et al at WDC can shed some light on some of this, and we can help contribute to the understanding

In the meantime we were all thrilled by the amazing dolphin spectacle!

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