Today I am looking at all opportunistic sightings reported from the 1st May to date (26th July). Opportunistic sightings are those which are reported from members of the public via the website, facebook, email, phone or word of mouth. All sightings are entered into the website database to join our ongoing data-set which began in 2006. These sightings are different from those encountered during land-based and boat-based surveys, and the data-sets are kept separate from each other.
The end of May and beginning of June saw a few Minke whales on the west coast and we had 6 sightings over a 3 week period. This was the same period of time that Manx Basking Shark Watch were getting lots of sightings also on the west meaning there was a lot of plankton about for the sharks to feed on as well as the small fish that the Minke whales were eating. On 3rd May we had a particularly interesting encounter during a boat-based survey with a mother and new-born calf 9 miles south of The Calf of Man.
Above: A new-born Minke whale hides behind it’s mother. See how tiny the dorsal fin is.
The Risso’s dolphins have stayed true to their typical behavioural pattern in Manx waters. They arrived in March off Marine Drive and Douglas and stayed on the east until May when they gradually moved southwards. The hot-spot over recent weeks is the Calf of Man. Since May there have been a total of 41 sightings reports with the majority being seen from land. They have been especially active throughout July with lots of breaching, tail and head slapping. Little is known about calving times of Risso’s in the Irish sea. However quite a few calves have been reported this summer and courtship displays are still being seen, just last week 2 large males were observed chasing a female and taking it in turns to display to her by breaching clear out of the water.
Short-beaked common dolphins, despite their name are actually pretty uncommon in Manx waters with an average of 7 sightings reported each year. So far this summer we have had 2 opportunistic sightings; a single dolphin was seen bow riding off the Ben-My-Chree on 3rd June and a pod of 6 off Spanish head on 23rd June. A further pod (also on 3rd of June) was spotted along a sailing from Carlingford to Peel but they were 15.5 miles off the island making them outside Manx territorial waters.
Bottlenose dolphins are winter visitors to the Isle of Man but we do see the occasional pod during the summer months. The first 2 sightings this summer were on 17th June and 5th July in Ramsey bay, very close inshore. On both occasions they were seen chasing sand eels within the bay. Bottlenose dolphins seem to favour the east coast and are often seen within 50 metres from land. The most recent sighting was on 24th July whilst we were conducting a corporate ‘watch’ event at the Sound; a large pod of approximately 50 dolphins were spotted around a mile and a half offshore to the north. They were highly active, displaying lots of leaping and creating plenty of disturbance of the water.
Harbour porpoise are our most abundant species around the Isle of Man with an estimated 900 in Manx waters at any time. Since 1st May we have had 47 sightings reported from the public, the majority of which were reported from the south of the island between Langness and the Calf.
Above: A pod of Harbour porpoise around the back of the Calf of Man being very active and chasing fish.
Rare sightings: Although not in Manx territorial waters, lucky observers Charley and Margaret McCarthy spotted 2 adult Fin whales with a Juvenile, the sighting took place 17 miles off the west of the Isle of Man along a crossing from Carlingford on 3rd June.
For those of you wondering about the Basking Sharks. Please see http://www.manxbaskingsharkwatch.org/
Finally, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to every person who has contributed to our public sightings database.