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Dolphin Spirit Blog

Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Boat Trips from Inverness Marina

2017 Season’s Spectacles!

An Otter-view

Overall, the 2017 season can be summed up in one word; unpredictable. Whether it was June or September, we could never really tell what we were going to encounter day to day aboard our boats. We had a few surprises, a few frights, and some amazing sightings in-between, all of which will be spoken about in great detail below! If you didn’t get to enjoy the stories the first time around, or weren’t there to see it yourselves, now’s your chance to see what you missed out on!

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The End...

Seasonal Sayonara...

Well this is it the folks; the final update blog for the season. With a week left until the doors close (and our big round-up of the season's hightlights), it's time to report what's been going on in the Moray Firth one last time. Sadly, there hasn't really been too much to report! After the excitement of the minke whale last week, our past few days have been somewhat lacking in cetaceans; but what it's missing in fins it has made up for in spellbinding weather and brilliant sightings of some of our other, generally shier wildlife. Charlie and Kesslet have made their appearance felt only once in the last week, checking the boat out as she headed under the bridge into the Inverness Firth. The pair followed to Meikle Mee, before splitting off for a bit of a rest as the boat carried on. Since then, they've left the Beauly Firth somewhat vacant. That being said, when the cats are away, the mice shall play for sure, as we've had a great time meeting some of the other critters in the area for a bit more than usual.

An Otter One

With the good tides, we've caught up with the cheekiest of the Moray Firth lot a good deal recently; earlier in the week, the tide's rise coincided quite nicely with the very start of our day and the rising of the sun. These conditions made it ripe otter-spotting time, and we were not disappointed. Whether in curiousity or in playfulness, the otters have been caught a good few times sneaking a peek as we come by. The two youngsters have been frolicking around North Kessock recently a fair bit too, and coming into the water together to hunt. The big male of the two was clocked with a lovely eel of some sort in his paws on Monday morning, chewing away as we passed him by. The smaller female was also seen near the harbour wall, coming up behind the boat as she turned out of the marina. The otters haven't been alone in taking advantage of the quiet, as we've had seals by the dozen across most trips the past week; some very close, some acting like dolphins! It was around this time last year when we noticed the same phenomenon occurring; young harbour seals making large breaches around the Beauly Firth. Upon delving into this behaviour a bit, this seemed to be a kind of mate-impressing behaviour, where the seals showed off their skills and physiques to potential females, normally after a fight with another male. While we've only seen this behaviour with seals on their own, it could be that some of the younger males are practicing for when their time comes. We've also had some of the more mature males wave flippers and spy-hop at one another when they encounter each other further out at this time of year, so the seals sometimes are more entertaining than the dolphins can be! 

Well, that's the end of the report for this season; join us for a bit of light Hallowe'en reading (between children coming to your door!) when we release our seasonal round up of all the best sightings and moments of the 2017 season. Thank you all for reading our reports, we hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as we've enjoyed writing them for you!

The Penultimate Update Blog

They Think It's All Over... (Well it will be soon!)

That’s right – there’s only two weeks left in our season! So this blog will be one of the last update blogs for this year; we’ll be doing a full recap piece on the last day of the season to highlight the best sightings and experiences of 2017!

Chilled Dolphins

But back to the matter at hand, the past week. It’s been a pretty standard one as far as October is concerned, with sightings of Kesslet and Charlie coming and going a bit like the tide. Kesslet has also been spending some time with Scoopy, as she was spotted in the evening of Sunday chilling out with him at Chanonry by one of our curious guides. They seemed to be having a great time enjoying the sunset together! When with her son Charlie though, Kesslet has been showing a bit more activity; she had some breaching fun with him on Tuesday just under the Kessock Bridge. They’ve been hunting like crazy too, and seem to be getting very picky on their choice of food; the sea trout and return salmon from the river don’t seem to be doing it for them just now.

Pups and Pals

The otters have been out and about a bit, playing near their holt on the rocky wall and around their usual haunt at the bridge over the weekend. Our mother otter has been spotted on her own again, so we’re still not sure what her current situation is. Speaking of pups, we’ve had some return visits from this year’s harbour pups, as well as a few big grey seal males making their way into the Beauly Firth to feed on herring. They’ve been a certainly welcome visitor in these somewhat quiet waters.

 

Although, the waters aren’t always so quiet. Near the start of last week, we went on a wild goose chase on the word of Charlie Phillips for a young minke snooping about Munlochy Bay. Sadly for us, he had disappeared before we could find him, but the prospect of spotting it certainly got our eyes open and the hairs on the back of our necks standing on end! Wouldn’t that be a sighting and a half to cap off the year?

Spooks and Scoop(y)s!

It's Been a While!

For the first time in a while, last week saw us getting a visit from not just two, but three, dolphins! While Kesslet and Charlie were present most days (and sometimes for the whole day too), they had a random visit from Scoopy on Thursday, who returned to this part of the Inner Firth for a brief while. As usual though, he had a little muck around with Charlie before setting his sights on Kesslet again. Poor Charlie was left to fend for himself (a repeat of this summer's shenanigans), but in the time he spent alone he seemed to have a whale (or should that be dolphin?) of a time; he caught himself some lunch, and he came to play with us. After guiding the boat into the marina and saying his goodbyes, Charlie met up with his mum again and the pair disappeared for a while not too much later after Scoopy himself had vacated the area. Scoopy was actually spotted by a group of passengers later on that afternoon at Chanonry Point with Zephyr and son Zuzu, before those passengers came down to see us in Inverness, so he certainly got around a bit that day. On Thursday, Charlie and Kesslet actually spent the whole day nosing around the Beauly Firth; hunting actively in the morning, playing about in the early afternoon, then returning to snooze at the Kessock Bridge for the later stages of the day. We think they are targeting return salmon, as Kesslet's mum Kess used to do at this time of year. Kesslet's been catching a few hearty sea trout to keep her strength up too, so they've certainly been keeping a varied diet. 

Seals to See

It's been a good time for the seals without too much dolphin activity for them to compete with. The seals have hardly ever been on the mudflats when they've been present just outside the marina, and we've been seeing them in decent sized groups clustering around the Inverness Firth recently. The harbour seals spent today hunting very well, so much so they were being harassed constantly by gulls overhead. We were keeping our fingers crossed for hunting dolphins all the while, but they didn't turn up until this evening it seems (though Charlie made a sudden and brief appearance this afternoon at 2pm out near Meikle Mee). We've been catching up with both seals and dolphins further afield with the Mischief too; though the weather has been keeping us in the marina more often than we would like. It's not looking very good for the rest of the week either, considering the wind is meant to pick up into Thursday, but Spirit should be steady enough to go out on at least most sailings. It's recommended you call ahead this week and just keep an eye on the weather when booking your trip! It's gonna be fun regardless, and you just never know what we might see out there!

 

Onward and October-ward!

The Final Curtain Call...

It's finally October, and that now means that there is only a month left until the end of the season; come Hallowe'en, our 2017 will have come to a close. It's been a weird and wonderful season, with some fantastic sightings, some drama, and a spattering of mystery here and there too. But we'll save our recap for the final blog of the season! The only recap worth doing now is our look back at the previous week, and what's been keeping us entertained there.

A Late Holiday for the Gruesome Twosome?

Kesslet and Charlie have been very mobile since our last big sighting of them just over a week ago now, when Charlie's marvelous antics kept everyone on board (staff and passengers alike) entertained and gobsmacked all at once. They've been seen together and on their own too, with Kesslet spending a day footering around after herring early in the week by herself, and Charlie travelling east on his tod a day later. When they've not been spotted by the Spirit, Mischief has found them further afield usually, spending a bit of time with the hang-arounds, Zephyr, Honey and their little ones. That being said, we've had a couple days where they've went totally AWOL, and I've heard they may have been sighted even further eastward than usual when neither of our boats have found them. At this time of year it's not unusual, as herring and mackerel shoal more often in deeper waters past Cromarty than in with us; this is normally evidenced by the good sightings of gannets you get around there at this time of year too. Speaking of our fishing feathered friends, we've had a bit of excitement recently, not just over our own incoming juvenile gannet groups, but also of some apparent sightings of Sea Eagles again! RIB skipper George wasn't just whistling Dixie when he gave us a shout on Sunday about some kites bombarding a bigger bird over fish near Munlochy. We tried to check it out on the Spirit, but could only see one of the kites circling and nothing more. George claims (with witnesses too) that this distinctly larger bird was being harassed by several kites. Do you think George has found himself a white tail. or a tall tale?

Sleeping Soundly

We've been seeing a lot of laziness around the firth when the animals have been out and about. The seals are very nonchalant at this time of year, and thankfully this aids our sightings tremendously as they start to spend more time lazing near the surface when hunting. On Monday we didn't have a single trip that saw less than 5 seals, and all seen for a long time too. The otters have even been caught preening themselves while sat on the buffers of the bridge; whether hunting or lazing around, we've seen them quite a bit in that area recently. Kesslet and Charlie have also been caught snoozing near Meikle Mee, possibly after wearing themselves out chasing smaller prey and travelling more to find them. It's going to be a hard winter so it seems if this keeps up! We'll just have to wait and see; with only 4 weeks left to go, who knows what might happen!

Play Time!

The Gruesome Twosome Make a Splash!

It had been a quiet month up until a couple of days ago! Kesslet, and at times Charlie too, are starting to become more commonplace in the firth again. While they're not always in their usual haunts due to the dwindling salmon, the pair are still finding food around the Inner Firth towards Kilmuir and Bunchrew. It's certainly giving them enough energy, whatever they may be catching (most likely sea trout and herring), as they have been very active! On Friday, they came close to the boat on two of the four sailings they were seen on, even following the boat around the Inverness Firth as it made travels on the 2pm. Charlie's best show was on Saturday however, when, after a few very distant sightings of them prior, Kesslet and Charlie reappeared at the end of the trip in the river mouth. Charlie turned to come and say hello to the boat, at first coming in nice and close for a bow ride. He then came firing out from under us, nice and high! A tremendous breach! Then another, facing us! Then another, under us again but like a speeding bullet ahead! And a final one, tilted to the side! It was magical! But that was not all, he returned to our side as we turned into the marina entrance... and followed us in right to our berth before heading back! He joined up with mum Kesslet again before disappearing into the firth. It was a trip to make our jaws drop for sure! We're still waiting to see if we have some videos of the action to share with you!

Otters
Otters playing under the Kessock Bridge in the sunshine

Kesslet Capers

Kesslet was roaming the firth on her own today, and was nice enough to come and see us on two of the three trips that went today. She was missing at 12pm, but there's been a lot of really rowdy activity from a number of small power vessels in the area recently, and they've been seen chasing the dolphins while they're here. We think she may have been scared off this afternoon by a really foolish and selfish private boat, but she returned to us at 2pm before we saw her heading out to join up with Charlie and Honey's group near Chanonry (who were spotted earlier by Mischief and joined them for a bit of fun too!). We'll see what tomorrow brings for us sightings wise of the dolphins, but with a good splash of rain and favourable tides, things are looking up for the end of the month! We've been seeing a lot of our seals (commons mostly, as the greys have seemed to move out east to pup), and our otters have been making appearances too! It's a great time to join us, and with some stunning weather recently, you may even get sunshine to boot!

Like Herding... Dolphins?

A Difficult Month

Whew, and we thought August was a toughie! September is proving quite the handful so far, with our wildlife being so much less predictable than they were even last month! While the dolphins seem to be moving around a lot, Mischief is managing to catch up with them on the regular, Spirit is having a little bit of a harder time. That being said, Kesslet has managed to surprise us, both on her own and with friends in the past week. On Tuesday, she appeared for the whole day, catching salmon in the river as they were heading back out to sea. She seemed to do very well, and left at the end of the day with a nice full belly. She appeared on Wednesday too, again on her own for a bit of a nosey in the afternoon too. Charlie has been missing for a little while, but from what we've seen from others further out, he's spending a bit of time more to the east with some of the other social groups for a change. Mischief has found Spirtle on a number of occasions, and she's looking fantastic. She and her sister Honey are still hanging around, and we've been lucky enough to see them playing around while the boat has been near Eathie (see our Facebook for a little video of them having fun!). 

Other Finned Friends

While the dolphins have proven a little elusive for Spirit recently, it's opened the gate for some other little fins to make an appearance; the harbour porpoise! For only the third time so far this season we've come across them on two sailings this week, with them being the most obvious yesterday, surfacing nice and actively nearby in the Beauly Firth. We hope we may see a little more of our unicorns of the firth as the season closes, as they're such a special sighting. It's also a special time of year for another group of animals, our birds, as our gannets are returning to the area. We've seen them on most trips over the weekend, with a picking-up wind drawing them closer to the bridge. We've had mostly fledglings in the area, but a few adults to help teach the youngsters about life. Speaking of youngsters, we haven't seen our otter mum much recently, but when we have she's been around in the morning. We suspect she may have little ones just now, but her big male friend Pierre (as he's so called!) has been keeping us company as he hunts around the bridge. He's been quite the show-off over the past week! And it's not just the otters who may have little ones, as the greys have started to disappear from the firth; it's now the pupping season for the grey seals and they're moving more east to their designated pupping beaches. They'll return in spring, but for now, it's allowing the harbour seals to get out and about more, and to hoover up all the leftover fish in the firth! So while the season may be winding down, there's still plenty to see, and every trip is different. Nothing like a little bit of extra mystery to make a trip really interesting, eh!

Shhhh-eptember

It's Oh-So Quiet...

Welcome to the new, weekly blog here at Dolphin Spirit; as our season starts to wind down we'll be leaving all the blog excitement for a weekly recap to get the most out of every story coming out of our trips! But as it stands, after a stellar start, September is proving to be a rather quiet time, with all of our wildlife seemingly taking a bit of a breather after a hectic summer season. The seal pups have all been weaned and are now occasionally being spotted out in the water on their own, but for our Grey seals, all of the fun of the pupping season in just beginning. We'll see numbers of these seals drop off in the coming weeks as they make headway to their own preferred pupping grounds. Our otter mum hasn't shown up very much recently, and after all the eager anticipation over summer of new cubs, she seems to have not had any... yet. Her patterns have changed once again and she's being spotted early morning and late evening, which may be a sign of feeding youngsters. Her older cubs are still around, and sometimes have a bit of a sibling romp around the rocks and under the bridge, which is always good fun to watch. With the slow-down of the firth, we've been lucky enough to see (albeit briefly) some of the speedier visitors to the firth pop by now and again; the porpoise! Without doubt the shyest of all our wildlife, it's almost like spotting a unicorn when these little fellas appear, and luckily for us, we've had a couple within the past few days to get our hearts racing!

Dolphin Daydreams

It's been highly unpredictable once again on the dolphin front, with very little being seen of the resident terrible two, Kesslet and Charlie, but more visits from some of the Chanonry social groups now and again. Chanonry has been rather quiet for Mischief as well, but small, scattered groups are regularly being encountered off Eathie and over the other side towards McDermott Yard. We've seen a fair bit of Spirtle and crew, and Spirtle herself has gained even more fame after appearing on Countryfile! She had her own little segment describing what she's been through and how well she has been doing since. It's always an absolute joy to see her with all the spirit and joie de vivre a young dolphin like her should have, despite her injury and experience. She was recently photographed playing with friends and chucking about a huge chunk of seaweed like a true juvenile! In other calf news, there have been so far reports of around 5 or 6 newborns this season, including one for boat namesake Spirit! After her latest daughter turned three, Spirit surprised everyone by appearing with a tiny little tooty alongside near the Cromarty Firth! We can only hope they all have a lovely mild winter! It's also naming time for some of the older calves, who have had the old once-over from Aberdeen University and given their monikers for life. One such star from our trips to get his name is Zephyr's little boy, who is now called Zuzu! While convention normally has the names be in pattern with mum's name (and therefore we were expecting a more wind-based name like big brother Breeze), we think Zuzu's name is very fitting! What do you think?

Super Start to September

A Tale of Two Months

August saw the end of the most unpredictable month we've had in pretty much the entire three years Dolphin Spirit has been in operation. For better or for worse, we could never tell what we were going to see one trip to the next, never mind one day to the next! As the month came to a close, the dolphins all seemed to mysteriously vanish from the firth over the last couple of days; Chanonry was quiet, the river was barren, and as far as Findhorn there wasn't a fin to be seen. While some days the dolphins were a little further up the coast, sometimes they were in the Cromarty Firth, and others they were just gone. It certainly kept in line with the theme of August, where before we had big groups making a visit just because. With September starting to make its presence felt in the form of some spectacular weather over the past couple of days, it's certainly brightened up on the dolphin front too, with sightings a little more regular once again and even the otters and seals coming out to play in a major way!

Sunshine to Start

While September also saw a return of the dolphins, it saw a brief return to the guiding stage for Sue and a full-time return to guiding for end of season guide Raymond! With a long summer off to enjoy a break, Raymond returns to see the season out alongside Krystyna! With his teacher head still very much screwed onto his shoulders, Raymond is sure to give you an educational experience like no other; fun, a giggle, and learning without realizing! His classroom assistants of late have been Kesslet and Charlie, who have returned over the past couple of days to mill around and hunt back in their usual haunts after a bit of social sabbatical. We're hoping to see a little more of them as the month goes on, perhaps with the allure of salmon returning to the sea as the season comes to an end for the fish. We will certainly just have to wait and see, but it's starting off well for sure!

A Curious Cruise

Curiosity Caught the Seal

After a couple of quiet days out on the firth, with little more than a lonely porpoise spotted, it was about time for the gruesome twosome to make their appearances back in the river area. Surely enough, both Kesslet and Charlie were present today, but kept their distance... for the boat and each other! We first spotted Kesslet meandering and hunting on her own, in the riptide of the Kessock Channel. She surfaced a few times then disappeared into dust; we simply could not figure out where she had gone. As we came towards Kilmuir, we also found Charlie, dawdling his way in to the channel as well. He wasn't interested in the boat at all, and we could only but assume the poor lad was starving and on a fishing mission, since that simply isn't like him. The pair were not in the river as we returned, nor anywhere to be seen in the Kessock Channel or Inverness Firth on the 12pm trip. We thought they may have left already, but found them eventually at 2pm, where the pair were sitting off Kilmuir. Kesslet was about 100m from the Meikle Mee buoy, whereas Charlie was closer to Alturlie Point. They seemed to be sitting in the tide, surfacing rather relaxed when at the surface. That was until Kesslet made a short breach behind us and a big splash, and Charlie seemed to copy. Neither were spotted after that, so perhaps they were hunting salmon or a ball of mackerel in the central channel of the firth, but with no sightings, we can't say for sure. Unfortunately that would be the last we would see of them today, but we had some other curious visitors in the meantime!

Otter-ly Adorable!

While the dolphins weren't around at 12, we did managed to catch glimpses of our other 2 in the "Big 3" category. The otters were spotted by some keen eyed passengers playing around the harbour wall as we left, one diving off the rocks and into the water just behind the red marker. With the size of them, they seemed to be our mother otter's older cubs, having a romp. We also encountered many curious seals throughout the day, including a harbour and a grey, who both surfaced very close to the boat and stayed there staring at us as we passed by, which gave us all a good giggle. The grey even delighted passengers by squirting water out of his nose at them! With August being so unpredictable, weather-wise and sightings-wise, we can only wonder what tomorrow may bring; why not come aboard and find out with us?

Tides Have Turned

Another Visit from the Blue

Well it took us until 12pm to find our dolphins today, but when we found them, boy did we find them! As we approached Munlochy Bay, guide Krystyna was certain she saw something surface just at the entrance of the bay itself. She enlisted skipper Stuart to look, who grabbed a pair of binoculars to check out what she'd seen. Sure enough, about 200m in the distance, a fin surfaced! Then another one, and another one, and they just kept appearing! Zephyr and her youngster were the first to be identified, as Zephyr brought her little one close to the boat's port side after catching a small fish for herself. Ahead, there was a series of big breaches from two others, who, on approach, we found out were Bonnie and her youngster. The group swam with us for a while before we had to leave them be, and we turned around at Alturlie Point to head home. On the way back, Stuart spotted activity ahead near the Meikle Mee buoy, which turned out to be yet another dolphin! Kesslet appeared out of the blue, chasing fish on her own. She gave a few quick surface rushing dives and some more laid back surfacing before we had to leave her too. Charlie was also in the area, and as it turned out, while we were seeing that lot out under the bridge, he was throwing his own catch in the marina! He had approached a bright pink catamaran with his salmon, almost as if with a welcoming present, before turning tail and heading out not too long after, where we also caught him! All in all a wild 12pm trip, just showing how odd and wonderful August really is!

Spies in the Firth

We had Kesslet around for the 2pm as well, where we caught her tossing around a small salmon she had caught as she made her way back out towards Chanonry. She was very chilled out on her own, and we spent a good 10 minutes just watching her follow a bit in the distance. While that was the last of the dolphins to be seen, it wasn't the end of our wildlife spotting day, as the snoopy seals were certainly out and about too! We had a nice handful of harbour seals through the afternoon, but the morning saw no less than 3 spy-hopping seals do big high jumps to get a good look at us; most of these cheeky chappies were young grey seals! With this kind of unexpected sightings becoming a little more commonplace, who knows what we might see every day? Why not come aboard yourself and find out!

A Day of Surprises

Fun And (a bit of) Sun!

A slightly misleading title if ever there was one; we didn't have too much sun out on the firth today, as it came in dribs and drabs throughout the day, but the fun was in plenty supply! While we were out and about today, it wasn't just dolphins that we got to watch, as the RNLI over at North Kessock were busy putting on a show for visitors to their open day! They had displays, not just of their own lifeboat, but with the Invergordon Lifeboat and Coastguard 951 helicopter as well! We got to see a little bit of it throughout the trips we had today, which added a little bit of something different to our day! We also got quite the surprise to find Kesslet and Charlie were hanging around the river first thing in the morning! Kesslet even took the time to hunt out towards the canal, before all the noise started and the boats hit the water. When we came out at 12pm, we fully expected it to be dead (as the dolphins have shown us over the past few years that the open day is one of their least favourite days in the season!), but we were once again surprised not once, but twice! As we left the river, we spotted Charlie bobbing about in the distance. As we watched him, Kesslet appeared alongside us out of nowhere, poking her head right out of the water as she came up to have a good old look. But that was merely the beginning...

Coastguard 951 over the RNLI Station
The Coastguard Helicopter delights the crowd gathered at the North Kessock RNLI Station

 

Out Came the Fin ID Sheets!

On the return leg of the trip, we were keeping our eyes peeled for any signs of Kesslet or Charlie, in case they had finally decided to move out of the river. We didn't see them, but we did find another curvy fin on the move just east of the ICT Stadium; Zephyr and her youngster were having a bit of a nosey! While Zephyr clearly had her eyes on the fish, her youngster was having a great time, bouncing about the firth for a short while as the pair disappeared behind us. Again, that was not all, as another 3 fins popped up shortly after. Two were too distant to identify (but I am now certain it was Kesslet and Charlie moving out), but the one that came in close was a new one for us! A big male by the name of Beatrice; funny name for a boy dolphin, but he was named after the old oil platform of the same name! It left us scratching our heads for a moment before whipping out the ID catalogue to have a look, and sure enough there he was. Sadly that would be the last fin for the afternoon, but we did get to enjoy the company of our local seal colony throughout the rest of the day. Just goes to show, you never know who might turn up out on the water; that's the fourth Saturday this season where we've had a surprise dolphin bonanza to keep us awake and looking! Wow!

Awkward August

As Unpredictable As It Gets

August is a particularly strange time for the wildlife of the Moray Firth; a time where every day is different and there's almost seemingly no rhyme or reason as to why it ends up that way. Over the past few years we have known this much, and it makes it particularly difficult for us to go into each day, because even knowing what the weather might be doing and what the tide state looks like, you will never be able to tell what you will see. For those planning a visit in August, be aware that it's pretty much pot-luck month! Over the past few days, we almost had a pattern of "all-or-nothing" going, which all changed again when we had two days of 4 and then 3 out of 4 sightings in a day. Yesterday was another no-show, with neither Kesslet nor Charlie actually spotted anywhere until the middle of the afternoon/early evening, when they rocked up to Chanonry to play with Zephyr's little one and eat some of the salmon travelling through there. Then today, it changed again, with only Kesslet appearing in the river first thing in the morning! The behaviour of the dolphins is so mercurial at this time of year; even the most predictable animals, like Kesslet herself, can be very hard to track down at times. In speaking to WDC Marine Mammal Officer Charlie Phillips, he tends to say he's normally ripping his hair out around now, because his adoption dolphins just seem to disappear - and some of those can be pretty hard to find even in peak season!

Additional Fun

This weekend is going to see some fun and games over the other side of the Beauly Firth from the marina, with the RNLI hosting their open family day all day Saturday! Visitors with us will likely get to see some of the events they have going on while out on their trips; including helicopter and lifeboat displays, rides on the lifeboat itself, and a chance to learn about what the RNLI do and why they're so important to an area like the Moray Firth and beyond! Those big enough and fit enough will also get the chance to sign up and volunteer themselves to train and become part of their local crew! The WDC will also be there, with Charlie and Chanonry Shore Officer Sam hosting a display table, talking about the wonderful wildlife locals are lucky enough to enjoy from their doorsteps (or on boat trips like ours!). We would highly recommend heading over there after your trip if you're coming on over the weekend, as it looks like a great time!

Sunshine, Dolphin-Hops, and Rainbows!

Full Day of Dolphin Fun!

After another strangely quiet day on the dolphin front yesterday, we kept up the pattern of "all or nothing" today with a fantastic 4 out of 4 day! Not only did Dolphin Spirit find dolphins on all 4 sailings, but Mischief found them across all 3 of theirs! A very successful day! It was a real mixed bag activity-wise as well, with Kesslet and Charlie at times distant, at others putting on quite the show! It all started with a really close, and sudden, encounter with the pair at Meikle Mee. After assuring passengers that "just because dolphins hadn't been seen yet doesn't mean they won't", guide of the day Krystyna was soon proven correct when the gruesome twosome sprouted up as the boat was coming back towards to marina, passing the big green buoy. Their appearance wasn't just a sudden surprise, but a close one too, with Charlie poking his mustachioed nose out of the water to have a real good look at everyone on board! The pair swam under the boat and off out behind, towards the Culloden side area of the firth, moving slow but with purpose. We hoped that they would come in towards the river after hunting a little out there, as they have been doing recently, but they must have decided to go straight there; but 12pm, they already had salmon while they sat in the river!

Afternoon Antics

As morning turned to afternoon, the pair stuck about hunting for the best part of it. The 2pm was a little bit of a nerve-jittering one, as neither of the dolphins was spotted in the river or around the Kessock Channel on first glance! Thankfully, as we came out under the bridge, there they were, sitting off of the Inverness Caley Thistle Stadium! Seemingly just milling about, the boat watched as the pair surfaced only slightly and slowly every minute or so. Then suddenly, a flash of activity! Fins zoomed back and fore, and soon it was over, as quick as it started. A tail raised out of the water in a clumsy forward flip, almost as if celebrating; the pair must have caught something! We later spotted Charlie through the glare, sitting in the river mouth; Kesslet must've been further upriver again. The 4pm trip proved the most active by a garden mile! As we came out of the river, skipper Stuart spotted that a group of seagulls seemed to be mobbing a particular area of the riptide, and sure enough, we found Kesslet in there with a lovely big fish. Charlie was milling around in there too, but made his way out and into the river again as we were going under the bridge. When we saw the pair for the last time, they were all over the Scot Isles, a cargo vessel leaving harbour. Charlie gave a lovely big breach off the bow, signalling where we should look, and we soon found that mum Kesslet was getting in on the fun too! Off the pair went, breaching and bowriding the vessel out past Meikle Mee! Same tomorrow please?

Not Being Seal-fish!

A Quiet One for Spirit

After all the madness that seems to have befallen the Kessock Channel over the past couple of days, it was strange to see it so quiet! Not a dorsal fin in sight all day, including on our special 7pm trip, but plenty of other wildlife making their presence felt. Primarily, the seals stole the show! We managed to spot another seal pup, possibly around a week old, among the adults on the mudflats this morning, and again later in the evening! Jet black in colour, the youngster stands out next to his rather pale mother! That puts us at either 5 or 6 new seal pups this year, and with the season for them coming to an end, it's fantastic to be able to say we've broken last year's record of 4 for sure now! I think next year will have a hard score to beat, but it's entirely possible; we'll just have to wait and see!

Mischief Makers!

That left us wondering where the cetaceans were hiding; it wouldn't be long until we found out where! Early this morning, both Kesslet and Charlie parked themselves at Chanonry Point to cause some trouble with Zephyr and her youngster. Our two and Zephyr's boy were spotted having a whale of a time, bouncing around each other with a good deal of social contact. Later in the afternoon, they were reported coming back in towards the Kessock Channel, but seemed not to have got that far as Spirit didn't spot them. However, Mischief had great views of the fun they were having we can be sure! It's weird that Scoopy isn't hanging around as much as he was before; in fact we've barely seen him with Kesslet in the past week or so. He's probably back with Bonnie's group, where he was before tagging onto Kesslet. It is that season after all, so we can't blame the fella for trying to get around! We do hope to see a little more of him soon though, as he was getting more confident with the boat and having a bit of fun with us too!

Goodbye, So Long, Farewell!

And Then There Were None...

It is with great joy that was can report the eventual departure of the pilot whales from the Inner Moray Firth. After their travels out towards Cromarty last night, the pod didn't hang around, leaving the Sutors as quickly as they'd arrived, heading back out to sea. There have been no confirmed sightings of them since, which tells us they are no longer within sight of the shoreline, and hopefully safe and happy back out in deeper waters. The old female who stranded yesterday seems to have been the catalyst for whole situation, as once she was gone, the pod went straight on without delay. That wasn't the end of the drama all being said; as we still had a bit of a hiccup this morning. After an early and eager start to her day off (still concerned for the whales), guide Krystyna nipped over to South Kessock at 7am to check the coast for any sign of the pilots. Without a fin in sight, she turned to leave, relieved. It was then the message came through about a possible stranding of 4 further pilot whales back where the female was found yesterday. In a rush, Krystyna nipped onto the Dolphin Spirit to retrieve a set of binoculars to look. With no clear sign of the supposed victims, she hopped into the car and charged across the Kessock Bridge. As she ran up the single track road to Kilmuir, she was met by the Coastguard, who made their way further on to look as Krystyna scoured the bridge. Still nothing. On return to the RNLI Station, she met members of the BDMLR and SSPCA who were the first responders to the call. It was then the Coastguard radioed through to say that there was no sign of the whales, and it must have been a mistake. The running theory is that the poor worried soul who made the call mistook the large rocks, covered in seaweed, as being pilot whales. With a laugh, and another hefty sigh of relief, the group departed to get on with the day and contact others who had been mobilized. 

Dolphin Spirit's Day

It was back to normal for Dolphin Spirit though, with trips running the normal route and no planned cancellations. It was a good one for sightings too, as Kesslet and Charlie spent much of the day in the now-empty Kessock Channel and Harbour areas feeding on salmon. Not that the pilot whales hampered this much; Charlie was spotted nearly blindsiding one of the poor whales as he was too busy focusing on his fish yesterday! But the Channel came alive again, with seals and the dolphins making appearances and relaxed atmosphere all around as the sun shone down. It was nice to get back to the usual pace, and I'm sure after the start to the week, our crew will be itching for the weekend like nothing else! Hopefully we'll get to enjoy some more time with our lovely locals in the next few days; I'm sure they were feeling a little left out, what with the cameras all pointing at the pilots!

Whale, whale, whale...

Unexpected Visitors!

It would turn into a day of many heightened emotions out on the Moray Firth, but started off just like any other day. Krystyna sat quayside prior to the 10am trip (after arriving to her post nice and early at 8am!), and spotted Charlie and Kesslet making their way into the Beauly Firth. With that knowledge burned into her brain, she joined Brian and Sue down on the boat to prepare. The boat left sharpish with 25 passengers, dondering out of the marina and on the hunt for fins. It wouldn't be long until they found some... but there were a lot more than two! At first glance, roughly ten tall, dark fins breached the water in a long row. Was this another group of dolphins having a party off North Kessock? Had Charlie and Kesslet brought buddies? Well, they were dolphins alright, but as the crew quickly realised, not the ones they were expecting. Not bottlenoses at all, but pilot whales. Excitement turned into panic, realising that this was likely the same pod that had been hanging around Rosemarkie and Cromarty yesterday afternoon. With how far they'd come and how far inland they were, there was a very real possibility that this was going to develop into a stranding event. The crew burst into action, making calls to Charlie Phillips of the WDC to notify the British Divers Marine Life Rescue of the situation, to the Coastguard to put a warning out to boat users, to the Sea Lock and RNLI to ask boat users to take care precautions if they had to travel through that part of the firth. We committed ourselves to doing all we could to make sure this pod had every chance to make it back out the firth without issue, and thankfully, by the end of the afternoon they did. But not before attracting a throng of curious shorewatchers to the piers at North and South Kessock to get a good look at them!

Fun and Some Sun

The pilot whales weren't the only cetaceans in the area we soon found out, as Charlie and Kesslet came to say hello too right under our bow; almost as if jealous that we'd spent a good deal of time watching the pilots! They left us to scoot past Carnarc Point and into the river, away from prying eyes and the whales, who'd taken up residence outside the Clachnaharry Sea Lock by this point. That was the last we saw of the "local" dolphins, as we lost them in a sea of dorsal fins as they moved into the Beauly Firth once again. But almost as if the 10am trip had all the luck of the world behind it, we found 3 otters at the harbour wall mucking about on our way back home and a few seals along the way too! It was more than enough to leave Sue and Krystyna speechless (and trust us, that's an impressive feat in and of itself!). We did see the pilots again at 12pm, and they had moved more towards North Kessock by this moment, but seemed rather relaxed about the whole thing. Some squid were getting chucked about, flippers and flukes waved in the sunshine... it seemed we worried for nothing! The group started making travel plans to leave the Kessock Channel around 1.30pm, making tracks over to the pier at South Kessock, having a bit of fun as they went. By the time they're reached Carnarc Point, the tide was fair flowing again, and the pilot whales took their opportunity to horse it, making good speed out under the bridge shortly after 2pm. A relief to us all! We had cancelled the 2pm to give them ample opportunity to leave, and it seemed to work; off they went without a fuss. As much as we enjoyed seeing them, it was a bit too much stress for a Sunday morning, and we're glad they made it out safe again. 

Fish Frenzy!

Wouldn't Want to be a Salmon...

It was a very varied day sightings-wise aboard Dolphin Spirit, but one in which all the animals spotted had something in common; the migratory fish were their primary target! In the morning, we were alerted to Kesslet and Scoopy being in the Kessock Channel, hunting for fish. We rushed out on the 10am to find them, and did immediately, getting a lovely greeting from Scoopy who came by for a closer look. Kesslet by this time was further upriver, but just visible with her distinctive, curved fin. We kept our eyes peeled as we moved into the Beauly Firth, looking for any sign of Charlie, as he's been around the area with his mum quite a bit in recent days. And sure enough, he made his presence felt in quite dashing style! Bow-riding a fishing vessel which had just exited the canal, Charlie seemed to be having a whale of a time; he breached sideways, he breached backwards, he spun in the bow waves like a torpedo. It was fantastic to watch. After the boat had passed us, Charlie changed tack and came to see us, swimming alongside and then at our bow briefly before heading off behind us. As we turned, we found out why; Kesslet and Scoopy had moved out into the Beauly Firth, where a strong riptide had formed. Kesslet had also caught a huge salmon which she was happily displaying. As we came back down the channel we watched for them, and Charlie came to see us again, following us easily and making lovely, splashing surface rushes along the length of our bow. He bounced his way into the river after that, leaving mum and her suitor to it in the channel, and we left them to it as well. As we returned, we found Scoopy just under the bridge, where he was waiting for the Carnarc pilot boat to leave the marina. Upon seeing it he approached, and followed it out past us into the Inverness Firth, breaching at least some of the way. We also found Charlie back at the river, with a great big salmon of his own, before watching him head out after Scoopy. That would be the last we would see of the terrible trio today.

Feather and Fur

But it wasn't all bad, with the dolphins gone, the seals made their appearances, and we also got a couple of lovely interactions and a surprise visitor appear later in the afternoon. The 4pm trip proved the most successful after the 10am, with a couple of young seals to start, before a sudden sighting of a hovering osprey near the ICT Stadium. We watched him scan the water for prey, before heading over the Kessock Bridge and out of view. While the talons of the osprey were one less danger for the salmon, they weren't out of the woods yet! As we returned to the marina, we found our local male otter sitting just at the river mouth. He ducked and dived a couple of times, coming up a third time with a little trout juvenile in his paws and jaws. It was great to see him just chilling out on his back, munching away. He obviously wasn't too fussed about us, as he came back up to surface two more times to see us before we went back into the marina! All in all, a successful end to the day (though maybe not so much for the fish!). 

Wildlife Worth Watching For

Not All Stars Have Fins!

We've done the introduction to our crew and the dolphins, but what you might also need to know more about is the other wildlife often seen in our little corner of the Moray Firth; not all of it has fins! In this list we will cover some of the biggest and best, where to see them, and what to look out for on the water!

Red Kites

Over your head you might come across a rather imposing shadow; one with a 5-6ft wingspan and a long, v-shaped tail. This is the tell-tale sign of a red kite, like the one pictured above. The red kites here were born of a long-running reintroduction program starting back in the 1980s. The population was expected to merge with another reintroduced group well to the south, in Devon. The Devon population have since done their bit, with red kites now being spotted in the Midlands commonly as a result. The Highlands population seems to have suffered a few setbacks in their regrouping, with only around 250 or so breeding pairs in this area. It is thought that the illegal persecution (killing, particularly poisoning) of these birds on farmland and shooting grounds has proven the biggest threat and blocker to the successful bloom of red kites in Scotland. Despite this, Scottish kites have been sighted in England, Ireland, and some even as far as Iberia! We are lucky to see them year-round in the Highlands, primarily over the trees on the Black Isle, or passing over water between Munlochy and Culloden, or North and South Kessock. 

Seals

The Moray Firth homes two kinds of seals, one slightly more commonly spotted on our trips than the other (which may explain the name!). The first, and smallest, species is the harbour (or common) seal; these are indeed the ones we see most. Compact, generally less than 2m in length, with a rather cat-like face, these seals are very active in summer. The main portion of their birthing season occurs in June and July, meaning that these midsummer months are the best times to look out for pups. Harbour seal pups are actually pretty great swimmers, and are sometimes in the water mere hours after birth. That being said, small bodies don't work well over long swims, and sometimes mothers will be spotted giving piggybacks to the youngsters while on hunts. We have a small population (roughly 12 or so) of these seals living on the mudflats just outside of Inverness Marina. Our other seals are the grey seals; with just around 500 of these seals visiting the Moray Firth, they number roughly a quarter of the overall seal population of the firth itself. Their Latin Name, which translates to "hook nosed sea pig" comes from their distinctively long snout. It is therefore very easy to differentiate between a harbour and grey seal when in profile. The grey seals are most abundant before their pupping season, which is around autumn-time, as they will leave then to return to their designated birthing haul-outs, which tend to be more to the north.

Osprey

Another feathered visitor to the Moray Firth is the Osprey; these white and brown birds summer in Scotland to hunt down the migrating salmon. About the same size as a kite, they have long, finger-like wings and can most often be seen near or over water. Their talons and feet are specially designed to give them grip on slippery fish, and they can even close their nostrils to prevent them breathing in water as they dive into the water after their prey! They are generally most active over three points in their season; just before mating (so immediately on their return to the nesting grounds), after the young have hatched, and after fledging. The osprey will leave Scotland in dribs and drabs over the early autumn months, with most gone by October, so the best time to see them will shortly be coming to a close! These impressive birds will return to their winter grounds in Africa and Spain, with some flying as much as 430km a day!

Otter

The otters are perhaps some of the shyest of the wildlife to spot on the firth; small, sleek, and very quick, the otters can be there in a second and gone the next. Essentially looking like water weasels, the otters in our part of the firth tend to be of the one mating group - a mother, her cubs, and a large male. There is no distinct pattern to the activity we see from the otters, but we tend to find them within the first 20 minutes of the trip most commonly; at the harbour wall, under the bridge, or on the piers at either North or South Kessock. There is also no defined breeding season for otters in Scotland, so determining behaviour based on season is very difficult. That being said, the otter pair here certainly aren't shy about their antics, and have been spotted copulating a few times over the past few months, so the possibility of new cubs is certainly a very real one. Feeding on a variety of fish and at times, birds, too, it's quite comical what you can see them with at times; last season's otter highlight was the unfortunate demise of a non-breeding guillemot in the jaws of the big male just outside the ICT Stadium!

Harbour Porpoise

A worthy mention has to go to our unicorns of the firth, the harbour porpoise. Sightings of these elusive little cetaceans are few and far between, with only an estimated 80 individuals living in the Moray Firth! Bullied by the bottlenoses, the porpoise will actively avoid all the areas the dolphins tend to inhabit; sticking to the shore in small groups, avoiding boats, surfacing only when required and evading detection through sound or sight. We have historically had a few good sightings of tiny little triangular fins in the firth, but it must be said, you have to have some kind of luck to come across them! Mischief's first cetacean spotted was a porpoise, all things being said, so you just never know when or where they could crop up!

Not a Good Day For Fish!

A Feast to Be Had!

It was a glorious day to be out on the Moray Firth today... for the most part! As our 4pm passengers found out, the sunshine and calm waters wouldn't last all day, but we had a barrel of laughs riding the waves in the later part of the afternoon regardless, and our passengers took it all in their stride! But when the sun was out, however, a fair number of animals came out to enjoy it, including a few oddities! We came across seals throughout the day, and Charlie and Kesslet made a rather stellar appearance at 12pm, where we got to see them over the course of about 30 minutes in total! We first caught up with them just outside the river, with Charlie the first to poke his mustachioed beak out of the water. He swam some circles as we approached, with mum Kesslet appearing alongside him also. She was busy handling the lovely big salmon she had caught just before we encountered them, and took it with her as she and Charlie made waves out past the Kessock Bridge. We caught up with the pair after doing our tour of the Beauly Firth, just outside of the ICT Stadium. They came very close, passing under the bow from right to left, letting everyone get a great look at them. Also a great look at Kesslet's unfortunate salmon, who by now was nothing but a bundle of pink goo with a tail... gross! We lost them again near Meikle Mee, where the pair had disappeared in the direction of Kilmuir. It wasn't until we came back around to Alturlie Point that the call of "dolphins!" went up again, and we caught our last glimpse as they once again vanished into the depths of the firth. That would be the last we would see of them today, but not the last wildlife to give us a surprise!

Fish Supper, No Chips

The dolphins weren't the only fishermen out on the firth, as we also came across a cheeky Cormorant with a weird and wonderful little eel-like fish in its beak on the 2pm sailing, and lots of other gulls and other birds spent the best part of the calm weather fishing near the surface. Terns, gulls, and even a passing Skua were all caught today at some point with a fishy feast in their beaks! The Arctic Skua, spotted at 4pm, wasn't the only feathered surprise either, as we also saw 4 more gannets on that trip too! The gannets will be breeding around here again, and it won't be long until we see the skies full of brown fledglings, following their pale parents! Autumn must be drawing near once more; oh how time flies! We also had plenty of jellyfish sightings again this morning in the lovely emerald waters of the Inverness Firth; specks of red and blue lit up the depths, undulating on their way. You can see a great shot of one of the huge Lion's Mane jellyfish from today over on our Facebook page! With the neap tides, sightings have been very unpredictable, but the anticipation on every sailing is palpable and very exciting; who knows what we'll see for the rest of the week with this tide!



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