Step aside, Miami. In a rare bit of optimistic conservation news, Scotland is seeing record numbers of dolphins.
From May to October 2016, 2,303 common dolphins, 42 bottlenose dolphins, and 94 Risso’s dolphins were spotted by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. Those numbers blow away the average annual sightings over the past 14 years, which were just 463, 14, and 12 respectively.
The survey was conducted off Scotland’s west coast using teams of scientists and volunteers on board the yacht Silurian, which was previously used to film the BBC’s The Blue Planet series. In 2016 alone, this specialized research yacht racked up 9,260 kilometers (5,000 nautical miles) of travel across the winding coastline of Scotland.
“The impressive range of species documented in our at-sea surveys last year is a powerful reminder that Scotland’s west coast ocean environment is home to remarkable marine life,” Alison Lomax, director of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, said in a statement. “Long-term scientific studies of this globally-important habitat and its inhabitants are crucial if we are to ensure a secure future for the Hebrides’ spectacular cetaceans.”
While no doubt positive news, experts don’t yet know the reason behind this cetacean boom. Scotland might not be known for dolphins, but their waters are known to hold at least 24 of the world’s estimated 92 cetacean species. Like many marine environments around the world, it’s also succumbing to the pressures of human activity, such as climate change, pollution, noise, and destruction of habitat.
“The reasons for the high number of sightings of these charismatic dolphin species – and the broader effects on the marine environment and other species – remain unclear,” added Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, science officer of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. “But the intriguing findings highlight the importance of on-going monitoring and research – to strengthen our understanding of what is taking place in Hebridean waters, and to ensure well-informed conservation action.”