It has been a fantastic Easter month for us at Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch with some very special visitors to our waters.
It all began on the 17th March when the winter wind finally died down and we had some wonderful calm weather around the island allowing us to conduct a land-based survey. I headed up to Marine Drive and as soon as I pulled up just past the Arches, I could see something in the water. I leaped out of the car, grabbed my binoculars and my eyes fell upon a pair of Risso’s dolphins; it was an adult and a calf. The pair were really close inshore allowing me to study them well and it became clear the the calf was really small and very young. The adult was probably female as she had very little in the way of cuts and scratches on her skin. All Risso’s dolphins develop cuts and scars throughout their life and males tend to be very heavily scarred due to fighting with other males.
What happened next was really exciting; I was watching the pair head off and disappear around Douglas Head, when I noticed more dolphins further offshore. Upon close examination through the binoculars I can confirm that this was another pair of Risso’s dolphins; also an adult and a calf. What were two pairs of Risso’s dolphins with such young calves doing here so early in the year?
Since the 17th March (one month ago today) we have had reports of either one or both of these pairs of Risso’s almost every day from lucky members of the public. They have been spotted between Onchan and Port Soderick very close inshore slowly swimming along up and down the coast.
Peter Christian was one of the lucky people to spot one of the pairs on 8th April, and from his amazing photographs we can get a good look at how young this calf is. Risso’s dolphins are severely understudied worldwide and very little is known about breeding and what time of year they give birth. By looking at the size and colour of this baby, we estimate that he would have easily been born this year and therefore is possibly only a few months old. Evidence such as this, and other young calves seen in Manx waters in 2013 suggests that they are breeding either in Manx waters or very nearby. Either way, it is comforting to know that the parents feel safe keeping their babies around the Manx coastline.
Thank you to Peter Christian for the photo’s and to everyone who has reported sightings to us. Please continue to keep a look out if you are in the area as they were seen just this morning and are likely to stick around for some time.