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Dolphin Spirit Blog

Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Boat Trips from Inverness Marina

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?

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?

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!

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