Family History

The history of Moonlight and her Scottish family 

Who is Moonlight?

Back in September 2019, when Moonlight was first seen with her new-born calf, we didn’t know who she was or where she came from.

She has two small notches near the top of the dorsal fin which can be seen from either side on good quality photographs. This feature was so important early on in allowing us to follow this mother-calf pair and be sure that we were seeing the same animals each time. 

How was Moonlight identified?​

In July 2020, MWDW began compiling all photos and stories of this mother and calf pair online. We shared the webpages among the marine mammal science community and received a message from Barbara Cheney at the University of Aberdeen Lighthouse Field Station.

Barbara recognised the mother dolphin as ‘Moonlight’, a missing member of the Moray Firth resident bottlenose dolphins. 

Moonlight (#580 in the Scottish catalogue) was first identified way back in 1996 as a sub-adult, she has had three calves previously, with Starlight being her fourth.

Moonlight’s previous calves have all been male:

  • #978 Mellow Yellow, born 2003 and last seen 2006
  • #1113 Lunar born 2010
  • #1187 Shadow born 2014
Moonlight’s movements

In 2018, Moonlight, Shadow, Lunar and about 13 other pod members, left the Moray Firth for reasons unknown. Some of the pod were photographed off of Scotland and Ireland through photo-identification and data sharing. In 2019, one of these dolphins had travelled across the North Sea and popped off in the Netherlands. Meanwhile two dolphins appeared in Weymouth, Dorset where they became locally known as Harry and Wills. In 2021, they were identified as a Moray Firth mother-calf pair ‘Honey’ and ‘Whipper-Snapper’. 

Many of the remaining dolphins returned home to the Moray Firth, but Moonlight was deemed missing by Scottish researchers. We now know that Moonlight was heavily pregnant, and she may have stumbled across the Isle of Man when she was due to give birth. Realising it was a safe place with plenty of food, she stayed here with her calf who would not have been able to undergo the long journey home. The pair has remained here ever since. 

Moonlight's dorsal ID shot
Starlight's dorsal ID shot (2023)