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Dolphin Spirit Blog

Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Boat Trips from Inverness Marina

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!

An Osprey A Day...

If Only!

We wish we could see an osprey a day here at Dolphin Spirit, they are just such beautiful birds! That being said though, we were very lucky to see one hunting and hovering just over the Inverness Caley Thistle Stadium as we headed out this afternoon! It stuck around for a while, allowing passengers a good look before heading off across the bridge and into the murky, rainy abyss. We got to also enjoy sightings of our two new seal pups and the rest of the "mother and toddler group" as they chilled out on the mudflats, and our otter, who was out hunting on the 2pm trip near the bridge and rocky harbour wall. That really summed up our day today, as everything seemed to go the same way - chilled out and calm. Despite the rain which spattered us all day in dribs and drabs, Dolphin Spirit and Mischief both got out on the water and enjoyed the calm sea state; that makes a change from yesterday and Wednesday that's for sure! Unfortunately, the weather does not look good tomorrow at all; forecast of gale force 8 winds from 6am tomorrow may put the halters on our trips tomorrow. If you're in doubt about your trip, be sure to call ahead when the office opens at 9am to double check before setting off. We'll keep you updated across our social media if cancellations are on the cards.

Mischief Meets A Local Superstar

Dolphin Mischief had the joy of heading out to Chanonry twice today, and enjoyed some lovely encounters with some of the younger members of the Moray Firth dolphin population. One little visitor included the now-famous Spirtle, the sunburned dolphin. Spirtle, who will be 5 now, stranded at Nigg Bay last year for over 24 hours; she was found, luckily, by some lost dolphin watchers, who called out the correct rescue services to her aid. Despite the heavy burns to her right hand side, her rescuers gave Spirtle the benefit of the doubt and refloated her back into the deeper waters of the Firth. Spirtle has since taught onlookers the power of dolphin healing and seawater magic, as her massive burn scar has nearly all but healed. Spirtle is now also swimming correctly, and not letting her injury hold her back, and was today babysitting for sister Honey, who must have been nearby. The rest of the dolphins spotted were simply enjoying the calm, and hunting around for any available fish. There didn't seem to be many though, as those caught were quite small in places. Another of the dolphins in that area today was Kesslet, who had disappeared from the Kessock Channel for the day to spend a bit of time catching up with Zephyr and her youngster, catching a small fish, before meandering back down home. Sadly for us, the 4pm Dolphin Spirit trip didn't get to go out, so we didn't get to catch her on her way down! Hopefully we'll get to hear all about her adventures from her tomorrow, if she decides to be sociable with us landlubbers again!

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