The Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus is a large dolphin with a prominent falcate dorsal fin, grey upperparts and white underparts. Adults measure 1.9-3.9 metres in length (Carwardine, 1995). The JNCC Atlas (Reid et al, 2003) shows that this was a scarce species off northeast England over the period 1990 to 2002, with no records off the Northumberland coast. In the North Sea, the core area of distribution is the Moray Firth, where the population has been estimated at approximately 130 (Wilson et al, 1999). The summer abundance estimate in 2005 for northern and central North Sea areas from SCANS II surveys was 652 (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), 2008). Mennell and Perkins (1864) do not list any records of this species while Davis and Muir in Foster-Smith (Foster-Smith, 2000) include the earliest record for the region as an individual resident around the Farne Islands and Seahouses from March to October 1966. A further nine records of 12 live animals are listed by this author.
Analysis of casual sightings from 2003 to 2009 shows that Bottlenose Dolphin was the second most frequently recorded cetacean species over the period with 133 sightings (Brereton et al, 2010). There are no regular sites for the species in our area, with the sightings widely distributed in coastal waters. However in some years, individuals have remained in the same area for several months at a time including between the Farne Islands and Seahouses from November 2004 to June 2005 and around the Farne Islands in April and May 2007. One particularly famous Bottlenose Dolphin was “Freddy” who took up residence in Amble in the late 1980s and early 1990s and it is not an unusual occurrence for lone individuals of this species to take up residence in rivers and estuaries, often associating with small vessels. A lone animal in the River Tyne from August to November 2005 frequently accompanied small vessels as they left the river and returned accompanying either the same vessel or another on several occasions. This individual was also thought to be the animal that was present in the River Coquet at Amble from 8 July to 19 August and the River Blyth on 20 August of the same year. An animal in the River Tyne on 25 August 2004 relocated to the River Wear on 1 September, remaining there until 28 September. It is tempting to speculate that this was the animal present between the Farne Islands and Seahouses from November 2004 onwards and subsequent sightings in Amble, Blyth and the River Tyne in 2005. Strandings are rare, with only five definitely recorded between 1992 and 2004.
Sightings have reached double figures on eleven occasions, with the maximum group size recorded being an unusually large pod of around 150 individuals that moved south along the Northumberland coast on 21 October 2012, although the best chance of seeing this species in our waters still occurs when a lone individual takes up temporary residence in one of our rivers.
Written by Martin Kitching (last updated Nov 12)