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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 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?

Drama in the Inner Moray Firth

Crisis NOT Averted...

When we waved the pilot whales goodbye out of the Kessock Channel yesterday afternoon we were cautiously optimistic that they would head out after their big adventure inland. Shortly after the writing of our last blog, messages started to ping through about the pod returning, waiting around the mouth of Munlochy Bay around 8pm. By 10pm, Sue had clocked eyes on them off Kilmuir, which immediately set alarm bells ringing for some; the water at Kilmuir is very shallow near shore, and a sure stranding spot for any unfamiliar cetacean. Sure enough, our worst fears were confirmed first thing in the morning, with one of the pod live stranded on the shingle. BDMLR and SMAS immediately hopped into action, gathering their volunteers to attempt a rescue. Charlie Phillips was immediately on the scene also, posting first notice on social media to keep anxious locals updated (on his day off no less!). He also scoured the coastline nearby for any sign of others who may have shared the same fate; thankfully there were none. Meanwhile, the rest of the pod were once again chapping on the gates of the Clachnaharry Sea Lock, sitting very close in to shore and setting hearts racing once again. While Sue alerted her local contacts to their presence at 6.30am, she also messaged guide Krystyna, who got the office informed through guide of the day Rachel, and set out to shorewatch from South Kessock.

Troubled Waters

For Dolphin Spirit, the protocols from yesterday were put straight into practice; the 2pm sailing was called once again, and the boats forbidden from entering the Beauly Firth. While our boats acted responsibly to give the animals the space they needed, it wasn't always the case. Sue and Krystyna joined several angry South Kessock residents and shorewatchers in trying to deter curious boats from the whales, who were being herded worryingly close to the shoreline there by a rather selfish boat. After a few phone calls, and the police arriving to have a look themselves over at North Kessock (a visit unrelated to our calls), the boat turned and left. The damage had already been done, all for the sake of a few iPhone pictures of the animals, but it served as a warning to others who dared to harass them! While the whales circled, confused, right off the South Kessock pier, shorewatchers could only hope that the animals would move into the deeper water of the channel, or better yet, out under the bridge. The pod did move towards North Kessock, but seemed rather stuck there. They also weren't alone, as Charlie and Kesslet also came by for a nosey again; their tiny dorsal fins dwarfed by the might of some of the larger individuals of the pilot pod.

Not Out of the Woods

The whales did eventually move out and were spotted past Chanonry Point later in the afternoon, which was a relief to us all. The stranded individual, an elderly female, was eventually put down after rescuers decided she was neither well enough or safe enough to move back into the water. She was recovered for necropsy, which may reveal a little about the pilot whales and their unusual visits around the firth. At the time of writing this, the pilot whales are currently in the Cromarty Firth, which is not ideal. Shorewatchers are already positioned there to keep watch, and the Ecoventures tour boat will more than likely pick them up in the morning if they're still around, so there's plenty of eyes in the area. We can only hope for the best with these animals, and given what they've been through already, we're keeping our fingers crossed that they're just having a passing look before heading out to see. We'll do our best to keep you updated tomorrow as well, but for now, we're one down, but 30 whales lighter in the Beauly Firth this evening once more.

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. 

Stranger Sightings!

Something Stingy Has Arrived...

That's right, it's that time of year again; the jellyfish have been sighted in the Moray Firth. Like bees and butterflies are the first signs of spring, jellyfish are the Moray Firth's sign of summer! Perhaps drawn in by the two weeks of fantastic, warm climate, the jellies are appearing in decent numbers now from the reaches of Kilmuir in towards the Kessock Channel too. Keep an eye out for these strange, almost alien-like critters just below the surface; they're bright, yellowy-white in colour with a red-pink star like pattern on the top of the bell (or body) of the jellyfish. Last year we had a great many of these animals in the firth, and they provided some vital nourishment for our wayward sunfish visitor. Perhaps this year may see something similar happening.

A Pilot without a Navigator

In our first year, we had some pretty tremendous sightings, though not all of them were bottlenose dolphins. In fact, around August 2015, we were accompanied by an altogether different kind of dolphin; a pilot whale. Pilot whales are not whales like the name suggests, but some of the largest oceanic dolphins, exceeded in size only by the Killer Whale (or Orca), who is also a dolphin. These "whales" are also referred to as "blackfish". Pilot whales are not totally unknown to the Moray Firth, and small groups have been spotted in the past near Cromarty, however, much like other dolphins, lone pilot whales are a strange sight indeed. So when we came across this huge fin following a pod of roughly 7 bottlenoses, we were obviously surprised. The sad fact of the matter is that this was certainly a bad sign; unusual sightings like these are normally not without reason, and many of the whales (true or otherwise) do not make it back out of the Inner Firth. This poor soul was no different. After disappearing into the Beauly Firth with its new friends, the pilot whale reappeared two days later; unfortunately this time it was floating belly-up near Kilmuir. It seems like this individual had gotten lost, and anticipated that following the dolphins may also have meant food. Sadly, it didn't get what it was looking for. Sightings like this just go to show that every day in the Moray Firth is different, and you never know what you'll see next!

White Tails and Wild Hearts

We always talk about the Red Kites and Osprey that hang around the Firth, but did you know there have also been sightings of an even bigger bird? White tailed sea eagles have occasionally been spotted over the Caledonian Canal area and around the Beauly Firth. These large birds are generally confined to the west coast, where they feed on fish and other birds. The sightings we get are typically of juveniles, obvious due to their impressive, white fan-tail. These could be west coast individuals on the move, or possibly even other individuals from a recent east coast reintroduction program. Regardless, they are very impressive to witness, so keep an eye on the sky next time you're out with us!