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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

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So long and thanks for all the fins! – Isle of Lewis Research Blog

Time has flown and it’s almost time to say farewell to the Isle of Lewis and all the whales, dolphins and porpoises who call these waters home. Although it’s been a bit of a mixed bag weather wise, we’ve managed to get out on the water a surprising amount of times and every time been treated to some whale and dolphin delights. 


This has been our 8th year surveying the waters of the northern Minch with our focal species being the magnificent Risso’s dolphin. In only a very few places around the UK, Risso’s dolphins come close enough to shore to be seen regularly and with relative ease – weather depending of course! 

Over the years we’ve built up a photo-id catalogue of over 100 individuals, some of whom use these waters year after year, for socialising, feeding, breeding and raising their young. The sometimes sheltered waters appear to provide ample food for them and the area surely helps them to thrive and ensure their long-term presence. Due to the importance of the area we’ve been providing all the data gathered to the Scottish Government and calling on them to declare the area a Marine Protected Area (MPA) thereby ensuring protection long into the future. The process is a long drawn out and lengthy one and we’re still lobbying hard to gain the protection that the Risso’s dolphins, and the harbour porpoise, minke whales and of course the jubilant common dolphins all need and deserve. 

Our work here is of paramount importance to the future health of the marine environment which not only will help our flippered friends but will ultimately derive benefits for all who live and work here.

This year has been another hugely successful one with more individuals being added to the catalogue (identified by their unique dorsal fins and associated markings) and the really exciting encounters with some who were first sighted back in 2010 when we started the project. Seeing these same dolphins over multiple years only goes to prove how important this area is for this little-studied species and how important our annual visits to the islands are. 

As a sign-off from both us and the dolphins we hope you enjoy this delightful video of the ever-happy common dolphins rising the pressure wave at the front of our research vessel – enough to make even the hardest of hearts soften!

Until next time … so long and thanks for all the “fins”.

About Nicola Hodgins

Policy Manager at WDC