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Spectacular Start to the Season at the Scottish Dolphin Centre!

Well in the past couple of weeks we have been very privileged with the variety of wildlife that has been seen here at the Scottish Dolphin Centre. It has been getting busier and busier as the weather has improved. The Easter holidays has seen kids and families come flocking in to try and get a glimpse of our record breaking bottlenose dolphins.

And there has been success! Three times this week our visitors have been happy to see the dolphins make an appearance here at Spey Bay. They have been breaching and feeding at the mouth of the River Spey giving our visitors a special treat. As I was writing this blog today 4 bottlenose dolphins were spotted by our volunteers on their hourly Shorewatch. Now the season is officially underway the number of sightings is increasing and they should be hard to miss seeing as they are the world’s largest bottlenose dolphins! Hopefully they should be here pretty much every day during the summer months; we might even get sick of seeing them by the end of the season! (Totally joking fyi – that’s definitely not going to happen)

Charlie and Kesslet, two of the Moray Firth bottlenose dolphins- © Charlie Phillips

As well as the charismatic dolphins that have been spotted, my fellow volunteer Sara has been really lucky and caught a glimpse at the elusive harbour porpoises! Unlike me, this species is a shy and retiring type and can be quite tricky to find. Whereas our dolphins are happy to jump and leap out of the water, the porpoise aren’t as comfortable showing their faces. Although harbour porpoise may be mistaken as bottlenose dolphins, these guys are much smaller; they are around half the size coming in at just under 2m in length. A trick to try and tell them apart in the water is that whereas the bottlenoses have tall and curved dorsal fins, the fins of harbour porpoise are smaller and more triangular in shape and often it is just their fins you will see, so this is good to look out for!

If these wildlife spectacles weren’t enough, we are also pleased to announce that the ospreys have returned! Just like our dolphins; the osprey are also partial to the sea trout that swim down the river. These impressive birds of prey have now come back from their annual trip to Africa, where they live the life of riley and spend the winter away from the bitter winters in Scotland – something I think we would all do if we were given the chance! The majority of ospreys are faithful to their nesting sites and return to these in the summer breeding season from around late March, ours are known for taking their time however so tend to arrive a little later than others in the UK. The ospreys are a romantic bunch and mainly monogamous; therefore not only are faithful to their nest but also to their mate. The females are mainly responsible for taking care of the nestlings, while the males are well trained and hunt for the fish to feed them all. These unmistakable creatures are found flying high above the River Spey grasping their prey in the stereotypical osprey grasp; fish facing head first in their long, curved talons. During the summer it is common to see ospreys’ hunting for food a few times a day and it is a joy to see them; especially considering they were at one point extinct in Britain. Now with more than 200 breeding pairs, we are lucky they were recolonized so successfully and that they are a returning visitor to our centre.

Osprey – © Charlie Phillips

During the past couple of weeks, we have also had numerous sightings of both grey and harbour seals at Spey Bay. For a few days in a row, myself and the other volunteers saw a harbour seal swimming down the river and decided it was the same individual, so inventively named “him” Sidney (Sid for short!), regardless of the likelihood it was a different seal we saw each time!

Harbour seal – © Charlie Phillips

I haven’t even mentioned any of the other bird species that we have seen here in the past two weeks, and yet the diversity of the wildlife here at Spey Bay is clear to see. It reminds me how we are all lucky to live in such a gem of a place and yet again gives people an incentive to come along and visit the centre to see the rich variety for themselves. In just a fortnight we have seen bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise, osprey, grey seals, harbour seals and our season has just begun. Who knows what else is hiding around the corner!

Why not visit the Scottish Dolphin Centre yourself and see what species you can discover!

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.