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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!

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?

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!

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

Another Day of Hunting!

It wasn't quite the 4 out of 4 day enjoyed by yesterday, but a 3 out of 4 day worked out quite well, with a few more close encounters with Kesslet and Charlie! While the 10am was a quiet trip, we were informed shortly before the 12pm by Mischief skipper George that dolphins had been seen in Munlochy Bay. We were keen to hopefully see them too, and after bundling 63 passengers onto the trip, we headed out in search of the incoming fins! We would find them just off Kilmuir, coming in down the coast. Through the waves, they were rather difficult to spot, but skipper Stuart pointed them out, and everyone got a good look at they came alongside then past us on their travels. Fingers remained crossed to see them again near the end of the trip, and thankfully we did! As we headed back in, blown around a bit by a prevailing wind, we spotted the pair close to the harbour end of the river. Kesslet seemed to be ambling around quite happily, while Charlie was a little further away, making some big splashes as he chased down a salmon. We left them to it, unable to stay too long because of the pesky gusts, and headed back to our berth, excitedly hoping that this would be them for the rest of the day!

A Head-On Hello!

As the 2pm trip left the marina, the Mischief was making her way back in early to try and catch up with the double trouble in the river! Between the two vessels was Charlie, bobbing around somewhat confused by his sudden predicament! He chose to come back around into the river, but not without his manners, coming right up and under the bow of the Spirit before heading back upriver to where his mum was sitting. Again, we headed out, while Mischief took a moment to observe. We saw a little bit more of them hunting in the river as we passed by again, but it was clear that the pair were very much focused on their bellies than boats today! At 4pm though, we got a lovely surprise from Kesslet, who was sat outside the marina entrance doing little circles almost as if waiting for us! She came nice and slow up to the front of the boat, allowing passengers and guides to snap plenty of pictures of her beautiful face (like the one above!), before doing as Charlie had done not two hours before. That was the last Spirit would see of the terrible two for the day, but Mischief got a short escort out of the river and back to the marina by Kesslet as they returned from their last trip of the day. So 1 sailing without, 2 happy dolphins later, 3 bustling trips with finned company! A rather successful day; we only hope that the pair may be a bit more social with us once the bigger fish start coming through again!

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?

Chronicles of Kesslet and Charlie

The Blog is Back!

For regular readers, my apologies for not keeping up with your daily dose of Dolphin Spirit dolphins and digest; your blogger has been away celebrating her birthday, but is back now to catch up and keep you informed! The usual gruesome twosome have been chopping and changing over the past of couple days between the Kessock Channel and Chanonry Point; it's been quite hard to predict where they would be one day from the next! Thankfully, wherever they've been, either Mischief or Spirit has managed to catch up with them, and observe their antics. On the 12th, they were up at the Point from the early morning. Unsurprisingly, Kesslet was spotted with a nice hearty salmon mushed up between her jaws, sitting in the slipstream just off the point itself. Charlie on the other hand, was making some fun of his own, bouncing around with some of the others in the area, at times including his mum. They moved further in land around high tide, once the fun and games were over. Thankfully, that was their latest almost-full day visit to the point in recent days, and yesterday, the pair and pal Scoopy returned to the Channel.

Lucky 13?

Through smatterings of rain, all three of the troublesome trio were spotted, hunting quite actively between the channel itself and the river. Charlie put on quite a show with one of his catches for Spirit's afternoon passengers, doing short tosses ahead of himself before doing quick, long dives after them. Mum Kesslet was never far away, at times hunting alongside him (and at others on top of him!). Kesslet has really gotten back to her old self in recent weeks, with a fair amount of socialization trips and the incredibly high breaches that she is known for. After her tragedy earlier in the year, Kesslet's fun-loving side is coming out again, and she's certainly livening up the channel with her games!

Rain-Rain Go Away!

It's supposed to be pretty rainy for the rest of this week, and today's passengers will likely be able to vouch for the horrid downpours that we've seen over the past 24 hours! If you're planning a trip out make sure you bring a jacket; even in the sheltered lower deck of Spirit a bit of horizontal rain might still leak in. You can always keep cozy in the cabin though! For Mischief-makers, make sure to tuck a waterproof jacket underneath your suit; if too much water collects in your lap you might still get a little wet as it will seep through! Don't let the weather put you off a trip though; rainy conditions are a great way to increase dolphin sightings, as it empties the rivers and encourages the salmon to run! So try your luck, come aboard, and get into the Dolphin Spirit!

Fantastic 4!

A Full Day with Dolphins!

After the quiet of yesterday, Dolphin Spirit was subject to a real treat today with every trip lucky enough to see our locals! It started off in the morning, with Kesslet and Charlie being the early risers, arriving first thing to take advantage of the tides and the influx of salmon. It wouldn’t be long until the first was caught either, with Kesslet scoffing her first of the day in her usual, rather grotesque, style.  Dolphin Spirit caught up with them at 10am, and was subject to a bit of play after breakfast too! At 12pm, they found them again, but this time, not alone! Scoopy had come down for the afternoon too (almost as if predicted if you read yesterday’s blog!), and as usual, was stuck to Kesslet’s side like glue. That being said, Kesslet doesn’t seem to mind; Scoopy is a fantastic hunter, much like herself, and when it comes to catching the biggies out near the river, two bottlenoses are better than one, and Kesslet always seems to be the one coming out of it all with the fish!

Afternoon Shenanigans

The two little lovebirds were not the only successful hunters in the firth this afternoon, as Charlie was also proudly showing around his catch of the day, and not just to Dolphin Spirit either! As passengers aboard Mischief soon found out, Charlie’s body isn’t the only big thing about him; he has a bit of an ego to match! He came right alongside the RIB, head-on to the side, and coughed up his catch for all to see! As quick as a flash, he was off again with it, almost certainly to swallow it before any quick thinking passengers thought to reach down and take it off him! Charlie wasn't the only showboating dolphin to make an appearance for Mischief either, as an older individual of the Moray Firth population was also spotted for the first time; the grand old lady of the sea, Jigsaw! Possibly one of the oldest dolphins still in the firth, Jigsaw's distinctive white-bordered fin makes her stand out, and her acrobatics tend to belie her age. It was lovely to come across her, and see her still looking well! Back in the Beauly Firth, the gruesome threesome sat around doing pretty much just hunting for the whole afternoon, until 4pm, when Kesslet made her presence felt right at the end of the trip. She came right up to the side of the boat, guiding the boat into the marina, before leaving to head off upriver for her evening snack. As you can imagine, guide Sue’s face was a picture after such a fantastic day, and it was quite the birthday gift for second man Andy, who turns 53 today! Happy birthday Andy, we hope our surprise dolphin party made your day!

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!

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.

Quiet Time

Well, For One Boat At Least...

It was an odd morning to say the least for Dolphin Spirit and Mischief; arguably the best weather all day, but as far as sightings went, it was a real strange time. Mischief left at 9.30am as usual, and were quick to alert the crew of Dolphin Spirit to the appearance of Kesslet and Charlie, who were sitting near the cardinal marker just outside of the river. That ramped up anticipations across the board. Mischief went zooming out to Chanonry, leaving Dolphin Spirit to track down the gruesome twosome at 10am. When the big boat rolled out of the marina, having herded passengers on early to help increase the chance of spotting them, they scanned high and low for fins. The Beauly Firth turned up empty, and under the Kessock Bridge too. Out past Meikle Mee we found nothing, by Kilmuir it was dead. We couldn't understand it... then we got a phone call. Charlie Phillips, sitting at the RNLI Station, called concerning the dolphins he had seen near Allanfearn. We had been looking for them, but could see none of the action he had talked about. We kept looking and looking as we came to and passed Alturlie for the elusive pair, and to no avail. Downhearted, we returned to the marina. When Mischief arrived back to liaise, we found out that the terrible two were all they had seen, coming upon them again on their way back near Castle Stuart. It just put more questions on the table as to why we didn't see them at first out on Spirit, but confirmed that would likely be the last we were to have of them in this part of the firth... bummer.

Mischief Finds Friends, Twice!

While the day remained a quiet one overall for Spirit, on Mischief, it couldn't be more different. The 12.30pm trip rocketed out to much fanfare, hoping to at least catch up with our wandering locals again. On arrival to Chanonry, they found Kesslet and Charlie there, and a little further out, also found they were not alone! As they came to Craig Mee, a group of youngsters put on quite the show, bouncing all over the place near the boat! After a rousing dance with the dolphins in that part of the firth, it was soon to turn around and come home, so Mischief left them behind. Big smiles on faces for the rest of the day after that one! The 3.30 trip also had high expectations, and were lucky enough to encounter Kesslet, Charlie, Scoopy, and a mother and older calf (no ID as yet on them) nice and close too. They were playing in the waves when the boat rocked up to Chanonry in the strong wind, and came to play briefly as the boat trundled through. All in all for them, it was a very successful day! We can only hope that this sudden relocation of our resident three doesn't become a regular thing!

No-Fin!

Well That's Not a Good Start...!

So with the turn of a new week, we started our recording of sightings from Dolphin Spirit and Mischief for National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Pity that today had to be an anomaly as far as our recent sightings record has gone! An overall quiet day, Dolphin Spirit was unlucky enough to find absolutely zero dolphins at all today, while Mischief's pickings were rather slim up at Chanonry too! Where have all our fins gone?! We still live-tweeted sightings from our sailings as best we could for today, and will be keeping our eyes peeled and fingers crossed for the rest of the week for slightly better sightings! Although, what we've learned over the years is that when the dolphins aren't hogging the limelight, other animals come out to play in their place!

An Otter-ly Different Kind of Day

On 3 out of our 4 sailings today we were lucky enough to see our seals resting out on the mudflats, with what looks like another new youngster to add to the population! With the neap tides, there wasn't a lot of change between the low and rising tide points today, barely enough to cover the mudflats by the end of the day! This meant our seals got to enjoy a lazy Monday, with only a couple of the younger harbour seals sitting in the water. We also had some really good sightings of the otters today too, who appeared on 2 out of 4 trips, and were really quite active! Two young otters (or so it looked by size) were spotted under the Kessock Bridge early this afternoon, and later by the harbour wall on the 2pm. There was a lot of diving and splashing, indicating they must have been hunting while the waters were quiet. We also received report of the first newborn dolphin being spotted at Chanonry today, which is something new and exciting for Mischief to be looking for (and being really careful around!) in the coming weeks! 

Another Active Afternoon!

Where Are They Coming From?

For the third time in about as many weeks, we have been absolutely spoiled by a travelling group of excitable dolphins in the Kessock Channel. After a quiet day yesterday, with sightings only briefly in the afternoon of Kesslet and Charlie, today's afternoon spectacle was the treat we were waiting for! Around 2pm, a large group of 7 dolphins arrived into the Channel; Kesslet and Scoopy were already present from earlier in the day. In the group this time were a number of mothers (and a cheeky Charlie to boot!). We had Bonnie, Zephyr, Honey and all of their calves appear out of the blue for a bit of high-spirited fun and games! They were there only briefly, just around an hour or two, before disappearing back under the bridge and into the outer reaches of the Inner Firth. The youngsters gave a couple of decent breaches in the centre of the Beauly Firth before taking their leave. It was fantastic to see once again, and we can only hope for more of it in the future!

A Game of Pairs

The social antics of the dolphins have been interesting to watch recently, and there has been a fair bit of movement all through the firth this summer. The usual Chanonry crew, inclusive of Zephyr, Honey and Bonnie, has been shouldered out it seems by a group of gregarious youngsters from further out. This "tiered movement" of the dolphins hasn't been seen in this part of the firth in such regularity for a number of years, and really we can only wonder at why it is happening again. The groups that tend to move down this way are unusual to say the least; Zephyr isn't known to leave Chanonry, Honey is rarely separate from Spirtle or her mother, although Bonnie has made moves down here over the past couple seasons. The one thing they do seem to share is Charlie, and he seems to be the catalyst for some of the movement we are seeing; always part of the herd as it travels down from the Point. Perhaps it's just coincidence that he is there, or maybe he is actually the driving force of the movement alongside the stratified movements from the north. Whatever the cause, it's making our days that little bit more interesting, and just proves you never know what you might see out with Dolphin Spirit or Mischief!

So... You've Been to Dolphin Spirit, Now What?

Afternoon Activities

So you've been and done your Dolphin Spirit/Mischief experience; you've had fun cruising the coast and meeting some of the charismatic wildlife that the Moray Firth has to offer... now what? If you're new to Inverness (like I was once!), you may be quite daunted by that distance between places, or what there is to do. On Spirit and Mischief, we introduce you a little to some of the best spots to learn more about Highland history, our wildlife, and even some great walks if you're looking for them. So in this blog, we'll detail a few of these places and how to get to them; all from the Dolphin Spirit office!

Clootie Well

The Clootie Well is one of the first true landmarks mentioned when you're sailing with Spirit; hidden in the trees near the village of Munlochy, this Forestry Commission owned green-spot is a must-do for culture seekers and nature lovers. The well itself is one of a few in the area, each with their own little stories and supposed powers; the clootie well at Munlochy is supposedly a healing well, and can cure any illness or disease (apparently!). Well-wishers (pardon the pun) will want to take an odd sock with them if they wish to try out the well. The word "clootie" means "rag" in the old Scots, and refers to the rag used to wipe down ill bodies, before being dipped in the well and hung on the nearby trees. You will find a great many of these clooties on your walk through the site, some with more history behind them than others! Take a moment and savour the meaning behind the place, as well as the nature still in the trees. It's a wonderful way to spend an afternoon wandering. 
From the office you will want to take a right at the end of the road, and a left at the mini-roundabout, and a left at the roundabout at the end of the road. Following the road you will come back to the Longman roundabout, and want to go left again over the Kessock Bridge. From here, take the first right up to Munlochy. Follow the road through the village and then turn left at the cross-roads. A green sign for the Clootie Well should be visible a couple of miles down that road. 

Fort George

A great monument of British Army history is Fort George; home to the Black Watch and the Highland regiments, this is the second for near Inverness to bear this name. The first was on the River Ness, but taken and destroyed by the rising Scots clans, the Jacobites. After the Battle of Culloden, the new fort was completed and became home to those who would bow to the new British rule. The fort has its own audio tour around the 5-football-pitch worth of grounds, as well as museum of artifacts spanning the history of the Highland regiments across the generations. It's a fantastic place for history-lovers, and a must-do for anyone with a military interest or background. If you're looking for views, Fort George has some great ones to provide; from the tops of the ramparts, keen spotters will not just get views over the hills to Ben Wyvis on a good day, but Inverness to the left and Cromarty to the right. With a set of binoculars, you might even find some more dolphins down in the water too!
From the office, you will want to take a left out of the marina exit, past the stadium and onto the A9 southbound. Take the first left cutoff and stick to the left-hand lane. Go left at the first roundabout and straight through the second (first exit each time). Keep going straight through the roundabouts and carry on following the road. You will start to see brown signs for Fort George and local signs for Ardersier. If you miss one, don't worry, there's 3 cutoffs in total which will get you there, so just keep an eye on your left!

Chanonry Point

If you're feeling brave, you might want to try your hand at land-based dolphin spotting if the weather is good or you have a spare day. Chanonry is considered one of the best places in the UK to get a look at bottlenoses from shore. In the summertime, dolphins are fairly consistently sighted there, and vary in activity from relaxed surfacing to breaches by the dozen; it's a little bit of pot-luck, as all wildlife-watching is! It's also incredibly busy at the point, with all kinds of people tempted there by the wonderful animals we are so lucky to share a home with. Parking at Chanonry is a small nightmare, and it is regularly full at the Point itself, but you can get free parking at Rosemarkie or Fortrose nearby and walk down if you are able. Be prepared to sharpen your elbows if you're wanting more than memories though, as the waters edge is often full to the brim! Plan to arrive at the point for low tide in preparations for the rising tide, and also be aware that you may be waiting a few hours to get the shots or sights you want!
For Chanonry, follow the same directions up to Munlochy for the Clootie Well, but instead of left out of the village, turn right, and follow the road through Avoch and Fortrose. Once you have made it through the one-land street of Fortrose, take your first right (following the brown dolphin and seal sign on your left) and follow the road all the way down to the point. 

North Kessock

Looking for lunch? If you're wanting something warmer than our cafe offers, you can hop over the Beauly Firth to the North Kessock hotel and delight in the splendours they offer for patrons. A selection of home-cooking style dishes will surely satisfy your cravings. While you're in North Kessock, why not take a short walk down to Aurorabearealis - the studio of Susan and Charlie Phillips - and partake in some art! Susan works with a range of media, from felt to paint, and produces some fantastic local works that will make for some wonderful memories or gifts for folk back home! If your camera hasn't caught much in the way of dolphins, you can always fake it til you make it; Charlie is a world-renowned dolphin photographer, and his shots have featured in numerous magazines and articles... and could also feature on your walls! His photos are available in a selection of delightful, artistic canvases and prints, and have even inspired some mugs and other gifts!
North Kessock follows the same directions over the Kessock Bridge as Chanonry and the Clootie Well, but instead of following the A9 up to the Munlochy turn off, take the second cutoff on your left (first after the service stop, it's signposted nice and clearly), and follow the road down, over a roundabout and into the town itself. North Kessock Hotel and Aurorabearealis are both on the Main Street.

When In Doubt...

Go with what you know! You can always use your bounce-back tickets and return to Dolphin Spirit for 50% off list price! How's that for a deal!

Hunting Party!

Dolphin Mischief Gatecrashes the Get-Together!

It was a cold and blustery day for the best part of the morning and afternoon, but the weather didn't hold back the Mischief from heading into the wilderness, and they'll be glad they went out! On arrival to Chanonry Point on the morning trip, Mischief found a lonely Sundance milling around just off the point. He wasn't very active, just swimming in the waves and ducking in and out of the riptide. A bit further out, a few more of the dolphins were sitting past the fort, doing much along the lines of the same thing, including Zephyr and her youngster. Zephyr and toot moved off to the point as Mischief were returning via Fort George back down the coast. The afternoon trip would prove far more fruitful, with the sudden arrival of several youngsters really putting a spanner in the works! 

Hardcore Hunting

Just before Mischief returned to Chanonry Point with the 12.30pm passengers, around 10 other dolphins descended upon the point. A few stayed at a distance, but it was wall-to-wall dorsal fins from Rosemarkie Bay round the point to be in line with the lighthouse! A few groups would become apparent and seperate off now and again, including a group of calves who detached from their parents and went on a breaching spree in the shipping channel between the point and Fort George. In that group were also Honey and sister Spirtle, who had a bit of breaching fun with Honey and Zephyr's calves. Mischief would trundle into the channel just as a heap of hunting kicked off, with five different dolphins working in tandem to corral and herd a group of fish; some of which went flying in different directions! Just behind the RIB, Sundance made a show of powering out an absolute monster of a salmon above his head. The hefty fish and hefty hunter crashed back into the water to the passengers' awe. As the RIB passed on round the coast of the fort, some of the dolphins did too, with a few breaches to boot. It was a fantastic afternoon, and Mischief's dolphin escort out of the Chanonry Narrows was the perfect mid-point to the trip. With the sun shining for the 3.30pm trip, one can only hope that it went just as well as the 12.30pm!

Skipper Gus pointing out dolphins
Skipper Gus pointing out Sundance's antics behind, unaware that another fin lurks nearby!

The Perfect Day!

Sunshine and Cetaceans All Round!

It couldn't really have been a better day if we tried! The sun poked its head through the clouds during the 10am sailing and stayed for the rest of the day; something our dolphins did too! Every single sailing for both Dolphin Spirit and Mischief encountered our finned friends, who by all accounts were out in force enjoying the weather! Dolphin Spirit had the pleasure of being joined by Kesslet and Scoopy for the whole day; Charlie had previously joined them in the river early on before the day started (8am according to the lads in the harbour), hunting salmon. However, by the start of the working day, had moved on out and back up to Chanonry, where he joined a happy, active group there instead (probably sick of third-wheeling Scoopy and his mum!). When Dolphin Spirit left on their first trip, the pair came by to say hello at the yellow cardinal, a brief but close encounter before heading back into the river. We didn't see them until the 12pm, when they had moved back out to Clachnaharry and were making their way back. Kesslet, eyes obviously on a nearby salmon, came bursting out of the water in a lovely breach, salmon flying out with her! She toyed with her prize and brought Scoopy over to see us at North Kessock to show off! We left them to it, and again, didn't see them until the next trip. It was an immediate sighting for the 2pm, with the pair just in the marina mouth as we left! They guided us out before disappearing from view back upriver. We had our fingers crossed for a 4 out of 4 day at that point, but something made it seem like it wasn't going to happen...

4pm Jitters!

We left the marina, no dolphins. We searched the Beauly Firth, no dolphins. We approached Meikle Mee, no dolphins. It seemed like the gruesome twosome had managed to evade us! There was plenty of chat going around the boat that there wasn't going to be a sighting this trip. But our guides Krystyna and Sue remained ever hopeful! As we came back to Meikle Mee on our way back home, one of our passengers gave a surprise call. "Dolphin." No shout, just a statement. He pointed down the bow, and sure enough, there was Scoopy, coiled round the boat like a banana! Sue yelled the call back to us further down the boat, and the call given down the microphone to look out for where they may turn up next. Two big blows behind us later, and our passengers rejoiced that Kesslet and Scoopy had graced us with a rain-blow goodbye as we watched them surf the waves. It turned into a 4 out of 4 day after all! And what a day for it!



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