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Risso’s dolphin MPA for North East Lewis?

We have been watching Risso’s dolphins foraging almost every day since we arrived last weekend to conduct our annual surveys off the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Since we were last here…. drum roll please…. our survey area in North East Lewis has become a proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) for these dolphins! We couldn’t be happier about this.

WDC nominated and supported this proposed designation from the start, including with scientific evidence from all our years of surveys and more than 35,000 of your letters of support to the Scottish government!

And it seems we couldn’t be luckier either. We’ve encountered some familiar Risso’s fins (rather than faces) foraging along the coastline, including mothers with youngsters that we have identified from previous years! This is great news as it adds to our evidence that the same dolphins are returning to this important feeding habitat.


Having spent a number of days along the coast, in the proposed MPA, we decided to head out towards the Shiant Islands. The stretch of water from Lewis to the Shiants has an ominous reputation for being rough and dangerous. Yet on this day it was calm and still and there was a low lying fog. It was a cloudy, grey day with a slow, lolloping swell and a metallic gunpowder sea, making ideal conditions for spotting animals.

Except for the distant dredger that was working along the coast, there was no-one around but us. It was eerie and exciting and the Minch was full of marine life. We surveyed the edge of the Shiant East Bank proposed Marine Protected Area (proposed for various seabed features), encountering great feeding frenzies made up of minke whales, harbour porpoises, grey seals, gannets, fulmars and auks.

Then before we knew it, an acrobatic and boisterous pod of common dolphins came flying towards us. We were surrounded on all sides! Mum and calf pairs were leaping on our left and right sides in the wake of the stern and a group of larger adults were riding on our bow, often turning sideways on and peering up at us, as we were peering down at them. They were so close we could hear them whistling from on board the boat!

They stayed with us for ages, traveling at the speed of the boat, and spread out as far as we could see. They were seemingly escorting us through the Minch and back towards Lewis.

On our return journey we surveyed through the North-east Lewis proposed Risso’s dolphin MPA. And like almost every other day since we arrived here a week ago, the Risso’s were foraging within metres of the coast. This really is a special place. It’s one of just a handful of places where you can hope to see Risso’s dolphins so close to the shore in the world! Please watch this space for ways that you can help to ensure the proposed North East Lewis MPA becomes a reality and offers on-the-ground protection to this incredible and little known species.