National Whale and Dolphin Watch reaches its climax this weekend!

The annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch event started on Saturday 27th July around the UK and so many fantastic cetacean sightings have already been submitted!  

Every year, scientists at the Sea Watch Foundation lead a campaign to help members of the general public contribute to scientific endeavours to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises, and are calling on thousands of people to get involved with the National Whale and Dolphin Watch between 27th July and 4th August 2019!

For over forty years, Sea Watch Foundation scientists, as well as volunteer observers all around the coast of the British Isles from Shetland to the Isles of Scilly, have been reporting sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) to inform Sea Watch’s huge database of records. The scheme is one of the oldest and longest-running citizen science projects in the world. Anyone can take part in this flagship summer event, the ‘National Whale and Dolphin Watch’, now in its 18th year.

Cetaceans can be found all around the coast of the UK and, already, there have been a record number of species spotted. At the time of writing, more than six hundred sightings of cetaceans (400 more than last year at this time) totalling 3,758 individual animals have been reported from Shetland down to South Devon and from the west coast of Wales to the Outer Hebrides.

National Whale and Dolphin Watch reaches its climax this weekend!
Mother and calf pair of short-beaked common dolphins photographed off Falmouth, Cornwall. Photograph credit: Billy Heaney/AK Wildlife Cruises

Scotland has recorded the highest number of sightings, closely followed by England then Wales. Around the Channel Islands, observers reported 3 sightings, and there were also three reports from around the Isle of Man. Four sightings were also recorded in Northern Ireland.

Eight different species of cetacean (harbour porpoise, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, white-beaked dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, orca and minke whale) have been recorded from 108 land locations and by 23 recommended boat operators until now and with four more days still to go this number will certainly increase!

Bottlenose dolphins are presently being sighted daily in New Quay along the west coast of Wales, and off Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth, but they have also been sighted off Littlehampton in Sussex, on the coast of Durham and Northumberland, and in the Channel Islands to name just a few other places.

Harbour porpoises are the commonest and most widespread species in Britain. They can be spotted almost anywhere, and records are coming in from all around the British Isles.

Observers elsewhere have been reporting on minke whales around Scotland and the Scottish Isles.

Short-beaked common dolphins have already been recorded at a different location including Berry Head in South Devon, Swanbister Bay in Orkney, off Falmouth in Cornwall and off Bloody Bridge in Co. Down, Northern Ireland.

Records of Risso’s dolphins have been reported from the Isle of Man, around the Outer Hebrides, and in Orkney and Shetland.

White-beaked dolphins have been just sighted in Dunnet Bay and off the coast of Northumberland.

Large pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins have been sighted at multiple locations around Shetland.

Orcas have been recorded around Shetland and Orkney since early spring and have already been included in the National Whale and Dolphin Watch tally.

It is expected that the number of records will rise as people find time to enter their sightings and after they finish their watches which have been organized in many different locations.

Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sightings Officer at Sea Watch Foundation and lead organizer of this year’s event said:

“It’s not too late for people to join in with the national effort to monitor whales and dolphins and the scientists behind the event are urging people to head to the coast to take part. “No experience is necessary, you just need to download a watch form from our website, record the environmental conditions every fifteen minutes and watch for at least an hour.

“Not all watches will result in a sighting, but that piece of information is still very valuable to us so just by taking part you are contributing greatly to the report we will publish.”

In addition, people are requested to report their casual sightings on the charity’s website.

During the nine-day event in 2018, thirteen different whales and dolphins were recorded in UK waters. Some 1626 sightings were logged around the UK that week, the highest reported so far. Although we are only halfway through this year’s event, it looks as if we could break all records.  For more facts and figures from last years’ event, please read our 2018 National Whale and Dolphin Watch report here.