Although the Dolphins tend to be the most frequently encountered and well known species in the Firth, we do also often see other wildlife on our trips.
One of our personal favourites, perhaps because we don’t see them very often, is the shy little Harbour Porpoise. From a distance they are sometimes mistaken for Dolphins but are almost half the size, have a more rounded snout and much smaller triangular shaped dorsal fin. They are much less boisterous than the dolphins and very rarely breach or approach boats, making them exceedingly hard to spot if there is any wind or waves. On calm days however, we are sometimes lucky enough to encounter small groups on our trips. If you think photographing dolphins is a challenge, you should try these!
Harbour and Grey Seals
Both Harbour (Common) and Grey Seals can be seen in the Firth, particularly on the sandbanks and ‘haul-out’ sites at low tide. Generally we don’t see them hauled out whilst on the trips but we do get quite frequent sightings of them in the water. Weighing up to 130kg, the Common or Harbour Seal has a smaller ‘dog-like’ face whereas the larger Grey Seal has a distinctive straight or ‘roman’ nose. Both Seals feed on a variety of fish and other species such as squid while they are in the Firth.
The Minke Whale is most commonly sighted whale in the inner Moray Firth. Our sightings vary hugely year to year depending on how far in the whales are feeding. We tend to see them most commonly between July and late September although we have had occasional sightings throughout the year. Growing up to 10m long they are large filter feeders and can often be seen lunging close to the surface using their huge baleen plates to separate food from vast mouthfuls of seawater. One of the giveaways that there are Minkes about is a terrible rotten cabbage smell which can linger on the surface long after the whale has dived, hence the name ‘stinky Minke’!
Occasional Visitors to the Firth…
In the nine seasons that we have been operating from Cromarty, we have also encountered a number of more unusual visitors. These have included:
- a pod of approximately 80 – 100 Pilot Whales who spent a day milling around and spy hopping between the Sutors back in May 2011. These whales are normally found in much deeper waters and we had concerns that they may strand but happily they headed safely back out to sea the following day
- several Humpback Whales, both adult and juvenile of which we unfortunately only got a glimpse
- three Northern Bottlenose Whales which came right into the Cromarty Firth, and one which even made it into Cromarty Harbour itself before being gently encouraged back out to sea
- large pods of Common Dolphins which are more commonly seen on the West Coast but are sometimes spotted here during the Summer months
- the occasional Sunfish and Basking Shark – natives of more temperate and tropical waters these are normally found further South and West
- a sea borne Roe Deer. We met this swimming across the entrance to the Cromarty Firth – these animals are certainly known to swim large stretches of water but it gave us quite a surprise!
Basically no two trips are alike and you never quite know just what we might see……