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17 September 2014
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Moray Firth

Dolphin delights

Sunset on Moray Firth c/o Charlie Phillips

Moray Firth in Scotland is one of the best places in the country to see the ocean's most playful creature - the Dolphin.

Take a trip on land or sea to watch this amazing creature.

 

Sunset spectacle on the Moray Firth. Photo c/o Charlie Phillips


But you don't have to be behind glass at the local Dolphin and Seal Centre near Inverness to see them - just take a trip to Chanonry Point.

It's a spit of land protruding into a narrow, deep channel, with a steeply shelving beach where dolphins come in to the shallows to feed on the salmon and sea trout brought in by converging currents.

Around 100 Dolphins live here in the cold waters of the most northerly colony on Earth, one of only two colonies in the UK.

It's surprising that Bottlenose Dsolphins live in this area, as they usually prefer warm to tropical waters.

But it's not just the cold they have to overcome - their numbers are steadily declining due to pollution and overfishing, which is destroying their habitat.

Marine mammals

Dolphin c/o Charlie PhillipsBottlenose Dolphins are cetaceans, or small-toothed whales, who have rounded heads with long snouts, sickle-shaped dorsal fins, broad flippers, blowholes and rows of short, sharp teeth.

One of the most intelligent and sociable marine mammals, Dolphins are often seen swimming alongside boats at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, jumping as high as six metres out of the water in a dramatic display.

Bottlenose Dolphins, characterised by their blueish-grey appearance and white belly, tend to live in small groups of up to 12 others, called pods, which are mainly made up of females and their young.

Sometimes a number of pods will join together to make congregations of hundreds, where a kind of hierarchy has often been noted, although the male of the species prefers to live alone or in a smaller pod of just two or three.

At up to four metres long and weighing around 650 kilograms, dolphins consume 13 to 33 pounds of food (mainly fish, squid and octopi) every day, which they hunt using a method called echolocation.

By transmitting a series of soundwaves through the water, which bounce off anything in their path, the dolphin knows where to find its next meal.

Dolphins can dive down to around 300 feet beneath the surface, but have to come up for air every five to eight minutes, so echolocation saves a lot of time.

Seal spotting

Juvenile Seal c/o Charlie PhillipsIt's not just dolphins at Chanonry Point - visitors can also see Common Seals which come onto the shore of nearby beaches to have their pups in winter.

Scotland as a whole is home to around 90 per cent of Britain's seal population, many of which can be seen here at Moray Firth.

The common seal, a member of the pinniped family, is often nicknamed a harbour seal as it is frequently found in shallow inland waters and does not usually venture more than 20km from the shore.

At around two metres long, with the male weighing up to 250 kilograms, Common Seals are large mammals with a dark grey back and a lighter, mottled belly.

They are carnivorous, opportunistic feeders, diving erratically into the water to hunt fish, molluscs and crustaceans like squid and shellfish.

Two other good places to see them are the Dolphin and Seal centre, just off the Kessock bridge, and the Moray Firth Wildlife Visitor Centre at Spey Bay, the largest vegetated shingle habitat in Scotland.

The Centre is also home to Ospreys, Otters, wildfowl and waders.

Beach c/o Charlie PhillipsPhoto credits

All photography are courtesy and copyright of landscape and wildlife photographer Charlie Phillips.

 

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