Archive for the 'Cetaceans' Category


The UK Mammal Photographer of the Year

The UK Mammal Photographer of the Year is an award based upon an annual competition run by the Mammal Society. I don’t normally enter competitions. I’m a bit too bashful. ;0) Anyways, I was talked into entering the 2019 event and I was lucky enough that my photo of a Minke Whale ‘Minke Miniscus’ taken last June, won the runners-up prize. gives all the details. My congratulations to the winner, Roy Rimmer, who’s photo of a mouse is lit to perfection.




2018 – the best bits

2018 for me set off being a somewhat muted year but rapidly escalated into something as special as it gets. Finding someone special to share my life was a revelation that I didn’t expect. The downside of that is a whole planet separates us. 2019 will be spent putting that right.

One discovery for me in 2018 has been the state of Victoria in Australia. The pull of this part of such a remote continent has been extreme. It’s undulating landscape, amiable weather, compelling wildlife and of course one special inhabitant have made this the most special place I’ve ever been. Australia is just the best. My two months here within 2018 have been the most outstanding part of my personal year. Within that two months Tania has taken me to some fabulous places. Mountains, remote bushland, deep dark eucalypt forests, small islands and open wide beaches. However, one place stands out in my mind as it holds birds that have been a part of my life for so long in the UK. Rare birds. Birds that blew to the UK as waifs and strays. Birds such as Red necked Stints and Sharp tailed Sandpipers. In Victoria, Werribee has a water treatment plant holding these birds in mind boggling numbers. Numbers I could only have dreamed about. Who would have thought a sewage plant would have topped my years best bits… but it has. It even topped the Beluga in the Thames!

But what of my professional year. There have been some great times. Scilly once again was terrific, so was Wales, the Farnes were at their best and the Scottish tours were formidable. Picking the best? … well that’s easy. The 2018 Mammal Tour of the UK. Without doubt the best tour I’ve ever done. Some fabulous wildlife; Minke Whales and Dolphins of three species you could have touched. Red Squirrels, Pine Martens and Badgers at arms length. However, to single out one moment of the tour I would have to go to a small beach at the fishing port of Wick on the Scottish East coast. Reading books from being a child through to adulthood enables everyone to conjure up dreams. Bucket lists. Events to experience. Things to see, places to go. I crossed off number one on my own bucket list on that small beach last May. My guests and I experienced the sight of a Walrus in British waters. OK it’s not the cuddliest looking animal you’ll ever come across. But hell … what an animal!

Roll on 2019. Happy New Year.


Beluga in the Thames

Have you ever been concentrating on something and had someone outside hammering or mowing the lawn. It gets to a point where you just have to do something; anything. You have to get up shut the window, throw something at the guy; shout some obscenity … whatever. Well it was like that this week. Everytime I tried to focus my thoughts and get things done there was this nagging distraction. THE BELUGA! – the TV news, radio, twitter, emails, the mobile phone … everywhere. How am I supposed to sit at the laptop and prepare presentations with that going on? In the end I got up and drove to Gravesend. I just had to.

I’ve seen Beluga before in what could be termed their natural habitat. They aren’t showmen. No leaping out the water for these cetaceans. I knew all I’d see was a rising lump of lard in the murk of the Thames and that would be it; but I had to scratch the itch.

I’ve seen Gravesend, at distance, from the north wall of the Thames on a twitch I did some 30 years ago; I think it was for a White Winged Tern. It didn’t look salubrious then and, apologies to the people that live there but, nothing had changed. I reluctantly left the car half expecting it to be on bricks upon my return and found the pub from where the Beluga had recently been seen. The view of the river was cluttered with barges, boats blokes in red jackets, fences, stanchions … oh the whole nine yards. Anyways the lump of lard eventually rose in front of the assembled crowd and with a little shuffling of my position up and down the river it showed repeatedly.

Now, I have to say I heard a lot of ill-informed crap being talked about this animal and I did try to put individuals right.

“It’s in difficulty” – NO IT’S NOT. It looks rotund and well fed and it was seen to be feeding well. Someone said it caught a crab well I didn’t see it do that but I did see it lunge and catch a fish.

“It’s in danger” – YES to some extent. The amount of large sea-going traffic on the Thames amazed me. The animal is at risk of a propeller strike. HOWEVER, it is at no more risk than the Harbour Porpoise (see photo) that I also saw in the river today and they are frequently seen in this part of the river – look on the net at the historical sightings on the Sea Watch Foundation ‘latest sightings’ page for this area.

“It should be in deeper water”. NO IT SHOULDN’T. Lots of people I listened to were equating this to the ‘Thames Whale’. The Northern Bottlenose Whale that entered the Thames in January 2006 and died of convulsions as she was being rescued. That was a Ziphid. NBN Whales are deep sea animals that eat squid. There are no squid in the Thames so it could not feed. All cetaceans get their water intake from the food they eat. No food equals no water equals dehydrated hungry confused animal therefore it goes up river rather than down it. Belugas are estuarine animals and are quite at home in shallow water as well as deeper water.

“It shouldn’t be in fresh water” – The Thames is tidal in this area and the water will therefore be brackish. The physiology of these animals allows them to enter brackish water without undue concern.

“It’s lost and is too far south” – Well it’s disassociated from other Belugas for sure but we have had Belugas before in the UK  … just not in the Thames. They have usually been around Scotland or Shetland; more recently in Northumberland and Ireland. However, there’s a population of Beluga close to Tadoussac in the St Lawrence river in Canada. Tadoussac is 48.14 degrees north. London is 51.50 degrees north ie London is closer to the pole than the resident population of Beluga in Canada. So it can survive here. Having said that my guess would be it probably originated from populations around Svalbard on this side of the Atlantic. I think as climate change kicks in we should expect more arctic species occurring here in the UK.

“The Thames is too polluted” – Well yes it is. However Salmon have recently been caught in the Thames and the Harbour Porpoise manage to live in it. In the St Lawrence the pollution is extremely high and when Beluga die there they are treated as toxic waste given the high level of toxins in the cadaver; but they manage to live and thrive in it.

Without doubt there was a lot of interest in this little Beluga and that’s a good thing – the more interest and knowledge there is, the better we all are – by the way I estimated it at 2.5m in length. So maybe not so little. It did have a pinkish grey cast to it so it’s probably a youngish animal rather than an adult. No doubt it will eventually move on but I would tentatively suggest it might be seen here for some time. No reason for that … just a feeling. Certainly the first ‘twitchable’ beluga in the UK.

Just to explain the photo of the Beluga. The animal is facing right. The blowhole can be seen at the extreme right hand side and the dorsal ridge can be seen on the left. The species unlike the Harbour Porpoise pictured doesn’t have a dorsal fin.

Just one last thing. Why do people insist on giving it a name? Benny the Beluga. I don’t think so. It’s not a pet. It’s a wild animal.


Big Beasts

Processing the last of the photos from the Biscay trip last month I found this one. Two of the 21 or so Fin Whales we saw. Magnificent beasts!


Leap of faith

When you’re staring down at the sea intently looking for dolphins the last thing you expect to see breach from the surface is a Blue-fin Tuna. However, when you’re in the Bay of Biscay as I was a week or so ago you need to be ready to expect anything!



It’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch this week so I shall again be holding a sea watch this coming Saturday, 4th August, at the eastern promenade from the bench half way up the slope at Overstrand here in Norfolk. Everyone is welcome to come and join the watch for any length of time they can spare between 10am and 4pm. Free roadside parking is available along Clifton Way NR27 0NG. There has already been a sighting of Humpback Whale and three Minke Whales further north off Flamborough Head today; so I’m hopeful of these moving south by next weekend. Maybe this year we can see more than the Harbour Porpoise that entertained us on last years watch.


Mammal Tour 2019

The 2019 Mammal Tour is now open for bookings – full details are available to download here

Take a look at just a few of the mammals we encountered this year … and it’s not just about mammals either … some amazing birds to be seen too.

The Scottish Badger is a smaller race than the English version.

We saw two pods of Bottlenose Dolphins on the east coast.

We saw around 150 Common Dolphin – always the most entertaining of mammals and everyone’s favourite – this was taken from the boat before the animal surfaced..

Porpoise were in good numbers around Ardnamurchan. I stopped counting when I got to more than a hundred.

One of seven Minke Whales we came accross

We watched this Osprey displaying with a fish. One of nine birds we saw during the week

The most enigmatic mammal of the Highlands this Pine Marten really entertained us

A surprise interloper at a bait ball we came across was this Pomarine Skua sporting full ‘spoons’ – always good to see.

Prolific in the Highlands we saw some good herds of Red Deer

Never as easy to find during late May as they are earlier in the year we eventually saw a few Red Squirrels

Several Storm Petrels were seen during our boat trip to the Cairnes of Col

One surprise mammal was this male Walrus. Something we REALLY didn’t expect to see.

We saw several White tailed Eagles while searching for the 22 mammals we eventually saw

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June 2019
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