As an island community we depend on the sea for so much - but it is also easy to take it for granted. In a monthly column, Dr Lara Howe, marine officer with the Manx Wildlife Trust, and Dr Peter Duncan, senior marine environment officer at DEFA, explore this underwater world and the lives of some of those who work there.
Our last group of marine megafauna is cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins and whales).
Fortunately, we don’t have to go far to see them, they are visible from the coast. In many countries this would require a boat ride out into the open sea or ocean. Here, all you need is a picnic and a comfy place to sit and watch from.
There are five main species that either live or visit our waters, harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates), short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinius delphis), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) and the minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).
Harbour porpoise can be seen year-round. This is the smallest and most common species seen in Manx waters, which is surprising as it is difficult to spot due to its small size, their shy nature and the fact they don’t create white water when they surface.
Bottlenose dolphins are powerful yet playful dolphins growing up to 4m in length. They are seen predominantly between October and March, usually on the east coast between Ramsey and Langness.
Two well-known individuals are Moonlight and Starlight. The mother and juvenile have been seen in Manx waters since 2019 and now have quite a following. Moonlight is part of the Moray Firth population, but other individuals observed here have come from Cardigan Bay in Wales.
Short beaked common dolphins are smaller than bottlenose dolphins at around 2.5m long and, despite the name, they are not common in Manx waters. This is likely a result of their preference for more deep water offshore, making coastal observations difficult.
They are one of the fastest swimmers travelling at speeds over 35mph, producing much white water and can often be seen bow riding like bottlenose dolphins.
Small pods tend to be seen between June and September on the west side of the island.
Risso’s dolphins are a large dolphin at a length of 4m with a square, beakless head and large dorsal fin. Seen regularly during the summer months (March to October) mainly off Port St Mary, Castletown bay to Langness and Marine Drive.
They feed on squid, octopus and cuttlefish which often scar the individual, thus the whiter the individual the older it is. In- fighting also leads to scarring.
Minke whales are the only whale seen regularly in Manx waters although other species such fin whales, orca and humpback whales have been seen in the past.
It’s a relatively smaller whale at 8-10m, that comes to our waters to feed on herring between May and August, travelling round from the south west coast to the south east coast. Recent sightings have been reported, for more information check our Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch (MWDW) social media and website.
Marine Drive up to Bulgham bay are particularly great spots to observe them from.
If you would like to help monitor these cetaceans in Manx waters report your sightings to MWDW. Alternatively, if you would like to do more you can always volunteer and help with their land and boat-based surveys. Contact Bryony or Jen at [email protected] for more information.
You can also adopt one of our Risso’s dolphins from Manx Wildlife Trust (MWT). The proceedings are spilt between MWDW and MWT. Find out more at www.mwt.im/adopt-a-dolphin