Have you found yourself on the lookout this summer, eyes glued to the Island’s waters for something hovering below the surface? The last few months have seen the Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch inundated with animal sightings from around the Island. Indeed, the local charity has reported an abundance of marine life emerging around the Manx coastline – more so than usual.
But why is this the case?
Outreach and Education Manager Jen Adams explained more to Tia Welsh from Islandlife:
How has the summer been for whale and dolphin sightings?
We’ve had such an amazing year! It’s been one of the busiest summers we’ve had for a while. There’s been dolphins in their hundreds in locations we wouldn’t ordinarily expect and they’ve been coming close so shore, which is really interesting behaviour. A couple of species turned up earlier this year than expected too – something is going on, in a good way.
That’s exciting for Manx marine life - is there any reason why this might be happening?
Obviously, there’s a lot of things for them to feed on. At the moment we have good levels of fish stocks in our waters and lots of Herring which is important. Herring disappeared from the Isle of Man in the 1970s due to being overfished and have been steadily coming back each year, and are doing really well. I think lockdown also helped because there was a lack of boats out on the water, leading to a lack of fishing activity.
You mentioned how some species were found in unusual places – are you able to give an example of this?
We saw a pod of Common Dolphins off the East coast of Maughold – a place we’ve never seen them before, and they were spotted very close to the shore. We were expecting them to be Bottlenose Dolphins but it was definitely Common Dolphins. This is so unexpected as you tend to find these species six miles out on the west of the Island.
The great thing about studying dolphins and whales is you never know what to expect, or what is going to show up. One amazing sighting this summer was a hybrid dolphin which is cross between a Risso and a Bottlenose Dolphin. That was the first time it had ever been sighted in the Isle of Man which was confirmed by a specialist working off the Isle of Lewis.
Is this normal behaviour, despite all these occurrences?
Definitely not! It’s abnormal behaviour. Lockdown also helped to boost numbers of Common Dolphins which is why we’re seeing a lot of juveniles now (about 2 years old), and also a lot of young calves. I think lockdown helped the females with wanting to mate because they were safer and there wasn’t as much disturbance out there.
As we say farewell to summer and the autumn season begins, what will be arriving around the Isle of Man’s coastline?
Big pods of Bottlenose Dolphins (150-200) – which usually arrive in October. Through photos we know they’re coming back in the winter to the Isle of Man to feed. You can see them along the East coast, anywhere between Ramsey and Langness.
Winter is a completely different ball game to summer with its rougher weather and choppier seas. Conditions aren’t always the clearest or warmest – is looking for these creatures more challenging?
It can be really tough as you need a calm day to really be able to see – which can be a rare occasion, especially with Manx weather. Saying that though, we do still see Bottlenose Dolphins returning in their pods between October and March. People just often assume that you can only see whales and dolphins around the Island in the summer, and there’s nothing interesting to see here in the winter, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.