We were feeling a little nervous as we made the decision to chance the weather and set out this morning. We had been out only twice in the couple of weeks since we arrived on the Isle of Lewis in Northwest Scotland to conduct our annual boat surveys (this is our 4th year). The weather, and especially the wind has been unkind to us and when we have managed to get out, although there have been some incredible marine beasties around (such as porpoises, white-tailed sea eagles, Arctic skuas and gannets) we had yet to encounter the main beastie we are here to study.
So despite the foggy start, we decided to head out early in search of the so far elusive Risso’s dolphins. We didn’t have long to wait to find them either. For the first time since we were here last summer, I sighted a large uniquely shaped and dark dorsal fin come slicing out of the water, quite some distance from our survey boat and further out in the Minch.
Another fin surfaced, and then a third… We moved over in their direction as a mother and calf pair came up for a breath. Things tend to get a little hectic on the survey boat when we see dolphins! Shouts go up, cameras and videos come out and records are made of what, where and when. We record our encounter in meticulous detail.
It wasn’t long before Nicola called from behind her camera lens, “I recognise that dolphin, we’ve seen them before”. These are the magic words.
We are here to demonstrate that this area off the Isle of Lewis is important to Risso’s dolphins and other species, and should be recognised and protected as such. Part of our battle is to show that the same animals return to this spot year after year, and that they bring back their young calves. Today, this encounter, plus another that followed shortly after that we’ll talk more about in a later blog, lasted no more than an hour between them, but has added valuable data to help us to achieve our quest.
But collecting the field data is just the first stage. We (more than 36,000 of us!) have already asked the Scottish Government to put a marine protected area here off Lewis to protect these wonderful dolphins. Now we have another opportunity to have our say about a whole network of marine protected areas around Scotland.
If you support WDC in our calls for whale, dolphin and porpoise marine protected areas in Scottish seas and would like to see this area protected especially for these dolphins, as well as other areas for other important marine species all around Scotland, we kindly ask you to write a letter on the WDC website.
The combination of data that we collect during our surveys and the letters that you write just might mean that in future years this area is recognised as being the valuable place that it is for these special dolphins and gives them the critical status and protection they need.