Email: info@dolphinspirit.co.uk

Click To Call: 07544 800620

×

Warning

JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 4839

Dolphin Spirit Blog

Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Boat Trips from Inverness Marina

Not Being Seal-fish!

A Quiet One for Spirit

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

Mischief Makers!

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

Goodbye, So Long, Farewell!

And Then There Were None...

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

Dolphin Spirit's Day

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

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. 

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!

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!

Not a Good Day For Fish!

A Feast to Be Had!

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

Fish Supper, No Chips

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

The Rise of the Falling Tide

The Gruesome Twosome Strike Back!

A rather strange day all in all aboard Dolphin Spirit, but one which saw the return of Kesslet and Charlie to the Kessock Channel twice! We first spotted them in the early morning, just as we came down the Beauly Firth heading towards the Kessock Bridge. They seemed to be waiting for a boat to come out of the marina, before they sneaked into the river for a little bit of low-tide hunting. We lost sight of them after that, not finding them on our way back, so kept our fingers crossed they'd stick around. Thankfully for us, they did a little more than that, and we caught them again at 12pm. The rain was hammering down on the firth, which made sightings difficult, but when dolphins are flying they're a little hard to miss! A lovely breach from Charlie started off the sightings for that trip, out near the cardinal marker off Carnarc Point. The pair came for a short sniff around the boat, clearly hunting something, before vanishing. We kept looking for them on our way back down to the bridge again, and found them milling around the left main leg. We kept on moving, watching them start to hunt again just under the bridge itself; what they were after must have been worth it, because they were certainly going hammer and tongs! We saw them again on their way out as we came back in, near Alturlie Point. Kesslet already had a fish hanging out of her mouth, but Charlie was very much still on the prowl. He hunted a good distance from us for a lovely big salmon, breaching after it and tossing it in the air in a few spectacular displays. Sadly, after that, they were gone. Wonder where they went? 

Stingy Things

We've been keeping tabs on the jellyfish population again, seeing a great increase in the numbers of Lions Mane and Moon jellies recently. They've added a splash of colour to the murky Moray Firth, as well as some interest for the kids when it's a little quiet on the mammal side. They weren't the only stinging thing on the firth today though, as we had to come to the aid of a poorly little bee who landed on our boat! The bee was cared for by guide Krystyna, who protected the poor mite from the wind and rain up her sleeve for an entire trip! She and Sue went on to take the little buzzy buddy back into the marina, where they warmed him up a little and fed him sugar water to help him get his strength back (you can see a video of it over on our Facebook page!). Once he was ready to go, he was released into the potted plants next to the marina, and shortly disappeared when the rain was over. Who says it's just the big wildlife we care about here at Dolphin Spirit?

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! 

Family Fortunes

The Original Pair Return!

After an exciting day yesterday, things got back to normal in the Inner Firth today; and not just back to normal with Kesslet and Scoopy, but 2016 normal with Kesslet and Charlie! After a quiet morning with the seals, Kesslet and Charlie put on a right show for our 12pm passengers, following the boat into the marina from as far out as Kilmuir! From then, they decided to stick around, and were spotted at 2pm hunting about for salmon in the river at first, then further out into the Beauly Firth. Between the 2pm and 4pm trips the mother-and-son bonding time came to an abrupt end, with the arrival of big Scoopy once more, who was spotted milling about with the pair in the river at the close of the day! It's lovely to see the firth being so active, and rather consistently again too. After 2016's rather controversial summer dredging of the harbour area, and the effect it had on the dolphins in the area, it's rather impressive to watch the difference this year! Seems like you can't shoo a hungry girl like Kesslet out of her patch with a little noise and silt! Hardy girl!

National Whale and Dolphin Watch

Guide Krystyna returns to her post for almost a whole week starting tomorrow, and with her, we'll begin to catalogue our sightings with Seawatch Foundation for National Whale and Dolphin Watch week! You can get involved on your own too, recording your sightings with us or on shore using their sightings form or emailing them over directly at http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/recording-and-submitting-sightings/. With our recent surprise visitors this month, this data will not just be useful for us, but for other organisations who are working to conserve all cetaceans living in UK waters! Anything can help, and even if you don't see any cetaceans on your watches, you can participate in their social media spoof #NoWhaleOrDolphin hashtag to make up your own silly sighting (their example is a peeled banana resembling a dolphin!). So make sure you get involved, get your spotters sheets and binoculars out, and see who we can find!

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!

Tea For Two

Never the Same Trip Twice!

While this is generally the fact of it here at Dolphin Spirit, it was even more true today! With the weather being the main change throughout the day, we honestly couldn't say one trip to the next what it was going to be like! The morning started off horribly weather-wise, with a good deal of rain pouring its way into the firth and over Inverness in general. Thankfully though, it wasn't bad dolphin-wise! Kesslet and Scoopy were in their old haunts again, with no sign of Charlie today. No reports of him elsewhere today to confirm where he wandered off to, but he certainly wasn't down here with us! The newest Beauly Firth pair made some really nice, close passes to the boat, much to the delight of our somewhat sodden passengers! We also got to see a bit of our otters again near the bridge, which is excellent, as they haven't been all that active recently! It wasn't just the faces that brightened up through the trip either, as the sun started to shine a little as the afternoon wore on. With too much of a tan already it seems, Kesslet and Scoopy went into hiding. This allowed the seals to come out to play though, including one curious little blighter who has really been chancing his flippers with the dolphins by hunting on his own in the river the past few days! He's only young, but super keen to check everything and anyone at the surface; even having a bit of a run-in with Charlie when he was last in the area. It's good for him then, that our locals don't seem to mind visitors to their hunting spots!

Afternoon Encore

Kesslet and Scoopy returned to the boat at 2pm, again getting in close once more. Scoopy seems to be getting quite a bit bolder, and leading the charge now and again to come and see us. He doesn't tend to stick around as much as Charlie does, but it's certainly a far-cry from the start of the season, when he wouldn't even go near us, even in company. It's nice for us to see that trust developing in him little by little (with the occasional egging on!). As 4pm came around, the pair had disappeared for the day, but the seals came out for the sunny setting of our final trip of the day, ending it on a bright and cheery note. Wonder what tomorrow will bring? It's hard to guess what the Firth has in store for us these days!

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!

Anti-Social Dolphins!

Sun's Out, Fins... In?

After a downright miserable day weather-wise yesterday, it was great to get out onto the water again in glorious sunshine! With bright blue skies and emerald waters for the most part of today, you could have sworn someone had moved our office into the Mediterranean! The Moray Firth was looking her best, and with big grins spread across our faces at the sight, we were in high spirits hoping for some great sightings to round off the atmosphere... but the dolphins were MIA! Or, at least they were until the afternoon! The first trips from Spirit and Mischief both went out to little fanfare animal-wise, which had us wondering where all the party had gone! It wasn't until Mischief returned early from a distinctly empty Chanonry to scout the Beauly Firth that we found our first fins of the day! Kesslet and Scoopy were parked up past Clachnaharry, in the words of skipper John, "being very lazy". They seemed to head further up the firth too after Mischief left them to return back to the marina, because when Spirit went out again at 12, they were nowhere to be found! That had us quaking in our boots; it wasn't just the cold wind that had started to come in making us shiver!

Found You!

Luckily, the 12.30pm Mischief trip found a few more friends out past Chanonry, and Spirit's luck turned with the 2pm trip. The Beauly Firth's hottest little couple arrived back in style, heading towards the river just as the boat was leaving the river mouth past Carnarc Point. They swam at quite the speed, straight into the river and round past the harbour in a flash; but we were happy just to have them within eye's sighting distance! We caught them briefly again coming back out of the river as we were concluding the trip, where they came right under our bow and across the right hand side of the boat and off behind us. With the glare pressing on the water at that point it was difficult to spot them at a distance, and it wasn't until they were upon us that we saw them! We hoped they'd stick about for the 4pm, and thankfully they did, but in the worst place in the firth! Of all the places to find them, we found them out at Meikle Mee, where the wind was whipping up quite the tide around the buoy. We glimpsed their surfacing fins as they surfed the waves on our way out and back in too, but they certainly weren't much in the mood for saying hello today! Hopefully we'll see a little bit more of them tomorrow; maybe an early night for our dolphins will sort out their bad attitude!

New Friend?

The river was home to a strange little visitor for the best part of today! A lone harbour seal, a youngster, greeted almost every sailing that went out today straight out of the marina! Hanging about in the water just off the rocky wall, the little seal had a good old look at the boat every time it passed, and seemed to show no fear of any others in the area. At one point, he even made friends with the local otters, who scarpered when the boat arrived, but for a moment you could see the pair of them in the water quite happily next to one another! I wonder what he was doing there; maybe with the dolphins' absence, he was capitalizing on all the big tasty fish!

Good Things Come in Threes!

Another Triple Dolphin Day!

Maybe we were a little quick to discount the good weather we were having! We certainly didn't enjoy the wind and rain that buffeted the boat this morning and early afternoon! What we did enjoy though, was a day almost completely full of dolphins! We spotted Kesslet, Charlie, and Scoopy first thing in the Kessock Channel on the 10am trip. Kesslet and Scoopy were sitting on their own near South Kessock, whereas Charlie was milling around the centre of the channel, so came over to say hello! He swam right alongside, surfacing next to us twice, before disappearing back off into the riptide behind us; Kesslet and Scoopy soon joined him there as well. They seemed to stay up there until the end of the 10am trip, but came down later, as on the 12pm, we found Charlie hunting in the river on his own. He seemed quite happy and active, but that left us wondering where the little "lovebirds" were off to! We later discovered exactly where, when guide Krystyna walked up the quayside to have a look, and all three dolphins were motoring their way out of the river! Once again, young Charlie had been left in the lurch while Kesslet and Scoopy had time to themselves. Poor Charlie!

Playtime at Dolphin Nursery!

With the trio joined back up again, it seemed to spark a little bit of life into their activities. With full bellies, all three were eager to play, and the chance to do so presented itself rather quickly when Kesslet came across a particularly large and enticing bit of seaweed. Needless to say, this toy became the centre of attention, and an eruption of breaching, tail lobbing, and surface rushes sent spray all over the Kessock Channel! The activity was over almost as quickly as it started, with Kesslet coming out as the winner of the toy battle. Thankfully, she was willing to share, as son Charlie came over to join her in wearing the new accessory (a rather jealous looking Scoopy sulked in the background)! As we came out at 2pm, the festivities had concluded and the seaweed discarded. All three were sitting off the cardinal marker still, resting in the waves pushing against them. They surfaced in time and occasionally one after the other in a delightful little pattern that we did our best not to disturb. We encountered the three sleepyheads another two times, drifting off under the Kessock Bridge and then just shy of Meikle Mee, where we left them to follow the tide back out past Alturlie Point! A rather relaxed end to a busy day!

Wet, Wild, and Windy!

Spray Everywhere!

Between the wind and the waves, I think we ate more of the Moray Firth than we saw of it today! It wasn't exactly the most comfortable of days out on the water, but one that we made the most of nonetheless. We started our day off the right way, with sightings of Kesslet and Scoopy right up by the harbour in the river this morning; Kesslet had the remains of breakfast just hanging out of her mouth. Upon spotting them, Charlie Phillips came by for another visit, this time setting himself up on the quayside to watch. Almost as if they knew he was coming, Kesslet and Scoopy toddled away into hiding, returning around 11.35 for a bit more hunting in that part of the river. Actively shooting after the salmon just above the surface, Kesslet and Scoopy hunted in tandem for a short while before making their way out again. They were just in time to greet the Dolphin Spirit as she left the marina, and they followed alongside for a while as the boat veered into the Beauly Firth, before turning tail and heading towards the Kessock Bridge. After that, the disappeared into the descending fog for the afternoon, leaving us a little high and dolphin-less for the 2pm; but that's ok, the seals were there to pick up the slack last minute!

Adverse Weather

With the wind picking up, we tentatively went out on the 2pm and braved the waves. There wasn't a fin to be found, but with our boat's passengers 50% under the age of 15, they still had fun looking out and getting splashed by the waves streaming across the bow! At the last moment, the seals appeared too, taking advantage of the mudflats beginning to appear with the fall of the tide. They provided some aww-worthy moments, including the little female wriggling as fast as she could from the encroaching waves! The increasing wind through that trip made skipper Brian reluctant to do the 4pm trip, and with Dolphin Mischief already putting a stop to their 3.30pm, it only solidified his belief that the 4pm would not be comfortable or safe out on that water. So sadly, we only got through 3 of 4 for Dolphin Spirit and 2 out of 3 for Dolphin Mischief, but those that went out were certainly successful, so not a bad day all in all! 

Sunshine Burnout!

Too Much Good Weather!

Only in the UK will you hear such a phrase being uttered unironically! After yesterday's rainy day, you'd think we'd be just buzzing to get some unexpected sunshine again, but it certainly didn't seem to be the case! With the return of the sun, I think everyone was too burned out by the mid-week sunbathing sessions to go out and enjoy it; including the dolphins! After some active days over the sunny spell, right into the evenings some nights too, our dolphins decided to take a bit of a break. We only had sightings of Charlie and Kesslet today in the morning, milling about quite happily together. After that they kind of left us in the lurch, and for the first time in a while, we were left fin-less for the afternoon. But it will take a lot more than that to break our Dolphin Spirit!

Sunny Days are Made for Seals!

There's at least one of our Moray Firth spotting list that's always up for a day in the rays; the seals! Thankfully, despite the quietness on the dolphin front, the seals were out in force all day, making for some great sightings themselves. The pupping season is coming into the latter stages now, and with still 4 recorded pups on the Longman mudflats, we're equal with last year's record. There is still possibility for some late arrivals but with it being so quiet on that front, and no really big females left on the patch, we may just have another year of 4. This is still fantastic to see, and great that our little population making home on those flats is doing so well to reproduce successfully year on year. What we're really looking forward to seeing is when those little ones start to grow up they'll be quite active out on the water; last year's pups were spotted making a quite a show, breaching in the Kessock Channel near the end of the season! We'll see just how many of the little ones make it to adulthood and possibly even return to the place they were born when they too breed. The cycle of life is always a fascinating one, and great to see when it comes to fruition. No dolphin newborns have been recorded yet this year near Chanonry or down our way, so there's always floppy dorsal fins to keep an eye out for when the seal season is over too! Exciting!



­