Risso’s dolphin on the Isle of Lewis, NW Scotland

The waters off north-west Scotland provide important habitat for distinctive Risso’s dolphins and a host of other important whale and dolphin species. Our ultimate goal is to better understand the habitat needs of Risso’s dolphins, and other local whales, dolphins and porpoises and to get better protection for these animals through a marine protected area (MPA).

WDC currently undertakes two distinct, yet related Risso’s dolphin projects on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles, Scotland, and Bardsey Island in North Wales. These projects will help us to clarify whether the animals in Scotland and Wales are part of the same population, or if they make up separate populations.

The work we have completed to date has demonstrated the value of both regions for these little known and charismatic species. Whether they form one population, and what management measures might be most appropriate to protect them, will only become apparent when we have more data to compare these and other sites around the UK.

In addition to collecting data on Risso’s dolphins, we have also encountered minke whales, harbour porpoise, orca, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, grey and harbour seals, otters, basking sharks, and even a sun fish!

Risso’s dolphin Project on the Isle of Lewis, NW Scotland

Every year WDC ventures to the Isle of Lewis to collect effort-based observations and photographic identifications. We have a catalogue of every Risso’s dolphin that we have encountered since the project was set up in 2010. Photo-ID catalogues take time to build and future survey work will add crucial data to our existing records, enabling us to build a clearer picture of Risso’s dolphins’ presence and absence patterns, habitat use, population trends, behaviour and social structure in Lewis, and in collaboration with other scientists and conservation groups, in other regions of Scotland and the UK.

If you have taken any images of Risso’s dolphins around Scotland and would like to contribute them to our catalogue then please e-mail them to species@whales.org with details of where and when the images were taken.

We also collect acoustic data through the summer months using CPODs. The CPODs record porpoise and dolphin vocalisations and enable us to understand which areas and which times are important for the animals.

We work closely with the local community, including our own volunteer Shorewatch team, Scottish Natural Heritage and some of the fishermen that work around Lewis and other less visited and more remote islands off the west coast of Scotland.

You can find a number of useful attachments about our work on the West Coast below.