CalMac whale and dolphin survey

ORCA Wildlife Officer Lucy Babey with the bridge crew of MV Lord of the Isles.
ORCA Wildlife Officer Lucy Babey with the bridge crew of MV Lord of the Isles.

Specially-trained Caledonian MacBrayne crews have taken part in an inaugural nationwide survey of whales and dolphins.

And, during the nine-day survey, a total of 49 whales and dolphins – as well as a lone basking shark – were recorded.

The data captured during the OceanWatch survey was fed through to cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) conservation charity ORCA which has now compiled the figures and locations to further enhance understanding of the animals’ distribution around the British coast.

This included two rarely seen Atlantic white-sided dolphins near Rum and multiple sightings of harbour porpoises and minke whales around Eigg.

Further common dolphins and harbour porpoises were spotted by crews as they sailed the Sound of Mull.

The single basking shark was spotted off the south coast of Eigg.

The survey has been introduced this year to open up a new and unique data channel – that of the commercial and professional mariner.

Given its unique daily business of crossing Hebridean waters, CalMac was invited to take part and was only too happy to say ‘yes’.

And crews on board MV Lord of the Isles, MV Lochnevis and MV Clansman all stepped forward to be trained by ORCA staff to spot the different types of whales and dolphins and to make notes of the species encountered, as well as co-ordinate plots of locations.

Routes included Mallaig to the Small Isles, Oban to Colonsay and Oban to Coll, Tiree and Barra.

“Our Masters and crews were happy to lend their support to the survey,” said Guy Dale-Smith, CalMac’s Head of Marine.

“Our daily business of crossing these stretches of water puts us in an excellent position to be able to help with little additional effort required on the part of our ever vigilant bridge teams and crews.

ORCA’s Community Wildlife Officer Anna Bunney, said: “We were expecting good results in the west coast area from CalMac, and we weren’t disappointed.

“The west coast of Scotland is a diverse area for whales and dolphins, and the concentration around the Small Isles in particular was impressive.

“My colleague Lucy Babey and I did some training with the bridge crews of the three ferries back in mid-July and they were really enthusiastic.

“And the crews were quite surprised by just how much you could see when you know where to look and what you are looking for.”