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Famous fins make a welcome return to Hebridean seas

Over the past 20 years, much-loved minke whales – Kasey and Knobble – have been returning to the waters off the west coast of Scotland each summer, highlighting how important Hebridean seas are for these animals. Incidentally, both whales were spotted for the first time this year on the same day – Tuesday 27th July!

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) is now appealing to members of the public to get involved and send in photographs of any whales and dolphins they’ve snapped, to try and identify the individuals. Using a technique called photo-identification (photo-ID), HWDT researchers can build a better picture of both individual whales and the wider population.

First recorded in 2002, Knobble has been re-sighted more than 50 times, with most encounters in the waters around Mull during July and August. This year was no different, with Andy Tait – a dedicated guide with wildlife tour operator, Sea Life Surveys – spotting Knobble and taking photographs to confirm the identity of the whale.

“What a day! We were close to the Cairns of Coll, when our old friend popped up and circled the boat at a distance. Knobble the minke whale was surfacing in different places and certainly kept us on our toes!” Andy Tait, Sea Life Surveys Guide

Much of what we know about Knobble are thanks to Andy Tait’s photos and sightings reported by Sea Life Surveys. Prior to this encounter, Knobble’s last known whereabouts was a similar spot, on the 27th  of August last year (also by Andy Tait). However, there is still much to discover about these majestic animals, including solving the mystery of where they go in the winter.

Further north that same day, Lesley Hawkins captured a fantastic video of Kasey the minke whale during a trip with Arisaig Marine. This inquisitive whale surfaced right next to the boat, much to the delight of all the folks on board, giving them a great view of Kasey’s distinct dorsal fin with three nicks along the trailing edge. First photographed in 2000, Kasey is another regular visitor to the Hebrides and has been seen more than 30 times during the past twenty-one years.

Andy and Lesley’s recent sightings reports highlight how vital boat crews and the public are to track the movements of individual animals year after year and contribute to long-term monitoring in the region. Anyone can get involved and the Trust have had photographs submitted from land, tour boats, kayaks and ferries, that have contributed to their photo-identification catalogues, that have been running since the early 1990’s.

Photo-ID is a non-invasive research technique and is an extremely useful tool for learning more about whales and dolphins. Whales and dolphins have distinct dorsal fins that can be used to identify an individual, much like our fingerprints.  By curating catalogues of the individual whales and dolphins found off Scotland’s west coast, we can build a deeper understanding of these enigmatic creatures.    “If you’ve got any photographs or videos of whales on the west coast of Scotland, past or present, please get in touch. Your photos help us to build a long-term picture of whale movements in Scotland and show if individuals favour particular areas. They can also teach us about the health of individuals, and we can learn more about the threats that they face. With these insights into their lives, your photographs provide the evidence needed for their protection.” Pippa Garrard, HWDT Education Manager

It’s not just minke whales, the Trust catalogues sightings of all whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks seen on the west coast of Scotland. HWDT researchers are currently updating the minke whale catalogue, so what better time to help improve our understanding by sending in your photographs for analysis.

You can easily log your excursions and report your sightings on their free smartphone app, Whale Track. To upload your photos visit the easy-to-use Whale Track website at www.whaletrack.hwdt.org, or e-mail sightings@hwdt.org.

“Every single sighting and photo is important and we would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who is part of the Whale Track Community and has taken the time to report what they have seen.”  Pippa Garrard, HWDT Education Manager.

 

Knobble the minke whale

 

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