City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Moray Firth Dolphin Ventures South

By edg - Posted on 18 November 2008

One of the Moray Firth bottlenose dolphins has been positively identified, using photographs of her fin, for the first time off the North Berwick coast.

The positive identification of the dolphin, known by researchers at The Whale and Dolphin Conservaton Society as Runny Paint, marks the first time a dolphin seen off the coast of North Berwick has been matched by researchers using photo identification to the dolphins of the Moray Firth population.

Runny Paint, so called after the distinctive white colouring along her dorsal fin, was sighted by observers at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick in the Firth of Forth in October 2008. She was later positively identified by researchers at the University of Aberdeen's Lighthouse Field Station, who, with on-going support from WDCS, have been carrying out long term study of the dolphins using photo-identification within the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in the inner Moray Firth.

Runny Paint is a distinctive female dolphin with very white skin lesions on her dorsal fin. Until 2000, she was seen fairly regularly in the Inner and Outer Moray Firth by the Lighthouse Field Station staff.

A population of around 130 bottlenose dolphins lives in Scotland's Moray Firth. This small, isolated group is extremely vulnerable. In recognition of their special status and vulnerability, part of the Moray Firth was designated a bottlenose dolphin SAC in 2005, one of only two such protected areas in the UK. When first considered for protection, most sightings of this dolphin population were within the SAC.

The SAC now only covers a percentage of the area the dolphins make their home. While some of the dolphins seem to spend their summer within the SAC, others range along the coast of the Moray Firth to Aberdeen, Tay, the Firth of Forth and likely beyond.

WDCS Head of Scottish Policy, Sarah Dolman said: "This sighting is
hugely significant as we can only protect this vulnerable population if
we know where they are ranging. Runny Paint was originally thought to
spend most of her time in the inner Moray Firth. Seeing her all the way
down here in North Berwick clearly illustrates the fact that some of
this population of dolphins is moving south and more areas are likely
to make up important dolphin habitat than we'd anticipated. Under
European Legislation, these animals are afforded protection throughout
their range."

The UK Government is considering plans to allow oil and gas development in the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for the bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth. The WDCS is warning that in conjunction with other threats, this could drive this dolphin population towards extinction.