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Wildlife watchers urged to photograph dolphins off Moray Firth coast

Guinness the dolphin taken in 2014 in Tayside

Wildlife enthusiasts are being asked to help a university project on bottlenose dolphins by sending their snaps of sightings.

The Citizen Science project, launched by a team from St Andrews University, aims to help understand changes in movements of the dolphins along the east coasts of both Scotland and England.

Led by Dr Monica Arso Civil and Professor Philip Hammond, both of the sea mammal research unit, the scheme is funded by Nature Scot and by the Forth and Tay offshore wind developers Seagreen, Inch Cape and Neart na Gaoithe.

The population of bottlenose dolphins has been monitored since 1989 by SMRU and the Aberdeen University boat surveys every summer to find and photograph them in the Moray Firth and the Tay Estuary, including its adjacent waters of Angus and Fife.

The researchers use the images to identify individual dolphins based on the nicks, notches and other natural marks on their dorsal fins.

By doing this, researchers know when and where animals are and can estimate the size of the pod, their birth and natural mortality rates, as well as track their movements around the coast.

Dr Civil said: “We have been monitoring this population of bottlenose dolphins for 30 years now, which has allowed us to follow individuals, sometimes from birth, as they have gone on to raise their own young.

“Some of these well-known individuals have been repeatedly seen in areas along the English coast over the last few years.”

One dolphin, known as Guinness, is a female first photographed in 1989 with her then one-year-old female calf, Muddy.

Regularly seen in the Moray Firth during the 1990s, Guinness was then seen more frequently around the Tay Estuary and St Andrews Bay, where she was last seen in 2015.

Dr Arso Civil added: “While we are not sure exactly why this southward range expansion is happening, if people can help us by sharing photographs they have taken of bottlenose dolphins in areas south of St Andrews Bay and the Tay estuary, we can build up a better picture of the dolphins’ movements over time.

“The pictures could be recent ones, or older photographs taken in the last few years, as these will help fill gaps in the sighting histories of dolphins.

“We hope this will help us improve the monitoring of this very special population and contribute towards its protection.”

The photographs should show the dolphin’s dorsal fin so that animals can be identified and matched to the population’s catalogue of individuals.

The project’s website explains how members of the public can submit their photographs.

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