Record dolphin sightings reported in the National Whale & Dolphin Watch

The UK survey of whales, dolphins and porpoises, from 29th July – 6th August 2017, collected over 1500 hours of observation data from volunteers

23rd February 2018
Common dolphin (credit, Getty Images)

Sightings of dolphins in UK waters have increased dramatically since the first survey 15 years ago, according to the National Whale & Dolphin Watch report.  

There were 697 sightings of harbour porpoises, followed by 224 sightings of bottlenose dolphins, 207 of the common dolphin and 35 of Risso's dolphins (see our species guide below).

Notable sightings included long-finned pilot whales in the Moray Firth, striped dolphins near the Isles of Scilly, killer whales in the north of Scotland, and humpback whale sightings in the north-east of the UK and the Isle of Man.

NWDW 2017 broke records for the amount of time spent on dedicated watching in UK waters – over 300 hours more than during the 2016 event – both from boats and from land.

The Silurian, a specialised research yacht (credit, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust)

Record dolphin numbers sighted off Scotland’s west coast

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust also recorded a new high of sightings of common dolphins in the 2017 survey. The 2016 results broke records, and in 2017 there was another 24% increase in the research from April to October.

The research yacht the Silurian monitors dolphins, whales and porpoises, as well as basking sharks. The Trust recorded 93 sightings of common dolphins – its highest total ever, up from 75 sightings in 2016. The harbour porpoise was the most commonly seen species – as has been the case every year since the Trust’s surveys began – with 363 sightings.

“Our findings highlight the importance of on-going monitoring and research to strengthen our understanding of what is taking place in Hebridean waters,” said Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, Science and Policy Officer at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

“The impressive range of species documented in our at-sea surveys last year is a powerful reminder that Scotland’s west coast ocean environment is home to remarkable marine life,” according Alison Lomax, director of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

The volunteers and scientists of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust have now recorded more than 30,000 marine mammals and sharks. Watch a short film about the surveys.


Spot them for yourself

Join a whale and dolphin tour with Hebridean Whale Cruises

Or volunteer with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust

Read our guide to how you can help with the 2018 survey.


Hebridean dolphin fact file

Common dolphin


Common dolphin (credit, Getty Images)
Common dolphin (credit, Getty Images)
  • Length: Up to 2.7 metres long
  • Weight: 150 kgs 
  • Lifespan: 20 to 30 years
  • Diet: Squid and fish, such as herring, mackerel
  • Threats: Accidental capture in fishing gear, pollution


Bottlenose dolphin


Bottlenose dolphin (credit, Getty Images)
Bottlenose dolphin (credit, Getty Images)
  • Length: Up to 3.8 metres
  • Weight: 400 kgs
  • Lifespan: 20 to 30 years
  • Diet: A variety of fish, squid, cuttlefish and crustaceans
  • Threats: Habitat degradation


Risso’s dolphin


Risso's dolphin (credit, Getty Images)
Risso's dolphin (credit, Getty Images)
  • Length: Up to 3.8 metres
  • Weight: 300-500 kgs
  • Lifespan: More than 30 years
  • Threats: Marine litter, pollution, acoustic disturbance
  • Diet: Squid, some octopus and cuttlefish


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