I would like to tell you all about our amazing boat-based survey on Friday 3rd June 2016. We left Peel at midday and headed offshore before going south. There was a lot of swell on the west coast and the sea state was much higher than predicted so we didn’t see an awful lot in our first hour and expectations were low. Once we rounded the Calf of Man and escaped the northerly wind, the swell dropped, the wind lifted and we encountered a few small groups of Harbour porpoise.
We made our way due south and everything started changing. First, around 6 miles offshore we encountered a pod of 6 Risso’s dolphins including 1 juvenile. They were fairly active and we managed to get quite a few decent fin photographs for identification purposes.
Shortly afterwards, when we were 9 miles south of the Calf, we came across an incredible area of activity. Initially we spotted a Minke whale and slowed down and waited for him to surface again. Whilst waiting we spotted a group of porpoises to the port side, then another group to starboard, then some to the bow and some to the stern and soon realised that we were surrounded by Harbour porpoises. Amazingly, they were not just around the boat but as far as the eye could see, more and more porpoises just kept on popping up. There were more than 50 animals in a small area, which can only mean one thing, plenty of food.
After a 10 minute dive, the Minke whale surfaced again, surfacing frequently and swimming at quite a pace. We also noticed another whale further away in the opposite direction. All of a sudden we were joined by an enthusiastic pod of Short-beaked common dolphins, it was a group of 6 who were highly intrigued by our boat and spent a while circling and looking up at us. Then, we saw lots of commotion and spotted something we have never witnessed before……the Minke whale was swimming at a very fast pace, body almost entirely out of the water and being followed by 2 common dolphins. Were they trying to play with the whale? Were they competing for food? Either way, it was such an amazing wildlife spectacle. If this wasn’t exciting enough we certainly weren’t prepared for our discovery back at the office looking through our photo’s. We had no idea at the time, but just behind the Minke whale was a tiny calf!! It was almost completely hidden from view, but in the photo’s you can see the very tip of it’s tiny dorsal fin. The calf was so small and so close to it’s mother than it could be newborn. We have never seen or heard of such a young whale in Manx waters so it is a very exciting discovery. Take a close look at the photo’s yourself and you will see a small black dot on the back, this is the calf hiding behind his mum! Zoom in and you will see him.
Minke whale with newborn calf
Shortly after leaving the area, heading back inshore, we were joined by another pod of common dolphins; 3 adults, 1 juvenile and 1 calf, They swam with us for a few minutes with the calf leaping high into the air; at times he was almost 3 metres above the water! Suddenly, the adults must have whistled to him, because he twisted mid-air as they all turned at the same time and swam away. We saw another 2 Minke whales on the return leg.
Short-beaked common dolphin
We headed back to Peel and saw a few more small pods of Harbour porpoise on the west coast before coming to the end of our incredible survey.
Total number of animals seen:
Harbour porpoise: 40 animals in one area plus a further 12 in various different areas
Minke whale: 4
Short-beaked common dolphin: 11
Risso’s dolphin: 8