Bottlenose Dolphin

NEWT’s Guide to Bottlenose Dolphins in Northumberland

by on Aug.06, 2018, under Bottlenose Dolphin, North Sea

A lot of our clients are very familiar with Northumberland’s marine wildlife so the question “Where have these Bottlenose Dolphins come from? I can’t remember them being here until the last few years.” is a regular one…

Until 2012 Bottlenose Dolphin was a rare animal in Northumberland waters and when I was researching/writing the cetacean species accounts for ‘Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles of the North East’ there had only been 11 sightings of 10 or more animals since the first Northumberland record in 1966.

21st October 2012 was the day that everything began to change, with a loose group of ~150 dolphins moving down the coast from Berwick to Newbiggin before vanishing. Small groups broke away and took a liking to Holy Island and Bamburgh, with the group off Bamburgh hanging around through the winter and riding the waves alongside human surfers!

With small groups becoming regular from 2013 we were involved in trying to identify individual animals from photographs by comparing them to the excellent photo-identification catalogue developed by Aberdeen University. That’s when we noticed an interesting pattern – the animals we were seeing were mainly females that were already adults when they were photographed in the Moray Firth in the late 1980’s and had gradually departed the Moray Firth for a life further down the east coast of Scotland around the Firth and the Tay. In the case of the most distinctive dolphin we’ve seen, #116 ‘Runny Paint’ – the dolphin with the extraordinary white stripe along the base of her dorsal fin on the right hand side and four dashes on the left hand side – she’d left Moray in 2001. The ‘proto-colonisation’ of Northumberland seems to have been led by some elderly ladies

Over the last few years there have been increasing sightings of the dolphins, which now seem to have an extended home range, primarily from the Tay to the Wear but extending as far as Moray and the Yorkshire coast, and it seems likely that there are now calves that have been born in English waters. We don’t know how many dolphins are involved in total, with observer estimates often varying wildly even for a single group, but somewhere between 50-150 is probably in the right ballpark

We’ve seen them on land-based trips, boat trips to the Farne Islands and, of course, on our regular pelagic trips off the Northumberland coast and there’s no doubt that they’re a spectacular addition to Northumberland’s marine fauna but that might not be good news for some of our other cetaceans…

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Bottlenose Dolphins spent over an hour playing around the boat on our 4hr evening pelagic off Whitley Bay and St Mary's Island on 29/06/18

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