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Winter Panorama overlooking Catchean and Creich from Fionnhort

The island of Mull is unique with its vast diversity and spectacular splendour of its landscape and wild life. The beautiful rugged Hebridean terrain and maritime influences give rise to micro climates on either side of the mountainous centre of the Isle of Mull. On the mountains and to the east of Mull, we have one of the wettest places in Scotland. On the west coast and particularly on the Ross of Mull (south west peninsula of Mull) and Iona in the spring and summer there are long, sunny, breezy days to allow you to walk the white powder beaches and explore the wonderful natural history on the many coastal walks in the area. See walks and beaches. The Ross of Mull where Seaview is situated has a similar climate to the island of Tiree (20miles west of Mull) , which is one of the sunniest places in the UK.

 

Below are photographs taken of our resident wild life on Mull accompanied by narrative of some of the animals and birds you are likely to encounter on your travels around the Ross of Mull, as well as on the isles of Iona, Staffa and Lunga. For some of the best photos of wild life and birds on the Ross of Mull have a wee gander at Bryan Rains' blog Begbits - Bryan updates his blog regularly with some cracking photos.

EAGLES ON 'EAGLE ISLAND'

The Isle of Mull is one of the best locations in the UK to see eagles - golden eagles (Aquila Chrysaetos) and the largest eagle, the white tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).

Golden Eagles fly high in MullThe Golden Eagle is a large, supremely elegant raptor favouring Mull's remote mountains and crags and is often seen as a dot in the distance soaring over a high ridge. Despite this, its wide slow circling flight is often sufficient to recognise it. A good telescope helps too! In the May to June breeding season the eagles are territorial and are often chased by ravens and crows.

The Golden Eagle soars with wings raised in a shallow 'V' shape. The adult eagle has a dark brown body, tawny to golden crown, heavy feathered legs and a long tail. Juvenile birds have extensive white areas on the wings. Hunting on remote peaks and uplands of Mull, occasionally visiting coastal cliffs,

(photo courtesy of VisitScotland)
the eagles prey includes crows, mountain hares and rabbits, in winter carcasses of sheep or deer. There are a number of pairs on the Ross of Mull and John & Jane can give you an indication of where you are likely to view them.


tagged white tailed eagle Isle of MullSea Eagle - Gaelic: Iolaire-suile-na-grein - 'Eagle with the sunlit eye'

The Sea Eagle is enormous and is the largest bird in the UK, up to 35% larger than its cousin the Golden Eagle with a wing span of over 2.5 metres. The foremost and easiest place to see Sea Eagles in the UK is on Mull; there are a number of sea eagles on the south of Mull just a few miles from Seaview. John & Jane can advise you on the likeliest place to see them. On Mull, the sea Eagle usually nests on a the flat crown of a tree, building the nest with a huge pile of sticks. Sea Eagle chicks usually hatch from late April onwards and fly the nest in July or early August. In south Mull there are a number of pairs who hunt for dead or sick fish from the sea lochs picking them out of the water with their feet. They also eat hares and rabbits. When mating you often see dynamic aerobatics including mid air tumbles.
(Photograph courtesy of Bryan Rains @ WildaboutMull)
 

Adult Sea Eagles have heavy striking yellow bills and a large whitish head with a white, short but distinctive fan shaped tail. Its wings are wider and longer than the juvenile. Young Sea Eagles are dark with the white tail and head developing towards maturity at five years of age. Sea Eagles are rarely far from water, perching on dead trees, rocks by the shore or soaring over a sea loch. They are less wary of humans than golden eagles and can often be seen at fairly close quarters.

RSPB White Tailed Sea Eagle Viewing Centre at Glen Seilisdeir near Pennyghael, Isle of Mull.

Open:
from beginning of April 2014.
Meeting Place:
The new meeting point is off the B8035 Salen Road or the ‘scenic route’ at approximately NM 480 303
 
Early booking advisable:
on t: (01688) 812556 from mid March onwards or pick up a leaflet at Seaview for details on how to get there.
Cost:
6 for adults 3 for children (including members of the RSPB). For further information about the sea eagles and the tracking project the RSPB is doing please click here



 
















 











 

  THE OTTER ON MULL

hungry otter Loch Scridain Isle of MullThe Isle of Mull and the Ross of Mull in particular is one of the best places to see the otter - Lutra Lutra or Eurasian Otter. The Gaelic name is Biast Dubh meaning 'black skin or fur'. Unusually the Mull Otter is a day or night hunter and the main influence on it's decision to hunt is the tide. (Photograph Bryan Rains)
The otter has a long slim body, a flat skull with powerful jaws, webbed toes, and a rudder like tail used for under water propulsion. Otters can close their ears and nostrils when under the water. There are two layers of fur; stout waterproof hairs and a tick under layer of fur providing insulation. The fur is a chestnut brown in colour with a lighter colour on the belly. The otter needs access to fresh water burns to clean their insulating fur. An otter's diet comprises of a mixture of fish, crabs, lobster, birds & frogs; the Ross of Mull has many features which are ideal for otter habitat especially the many bays with seaweed and rocks along with the freshwater burns running into the lochs. Over the years John has seen evidence of otters in most areas of the Ross of Mull coastline. The best time to see the Mull otter is usually on an incoming tide from low water towards high water, just offshore where you can watch them swimming in the seaweed or running on the rocks & seaweed. Towards high tide the otters retreat to their holt.There is no guarantee that you will see an otter on any particular day or place - however with patience, perseverance and cunning you just might!  


 

 

 

 

THE ILLUSIVE CORNCRAKE Crex Crex

Corncrake spotted by Jane on Lunga in 2005The corncrake Garra-gart in Gaelic is from the same family as the moorhen or coot but differs in that it prefers dry land. Although scarce, the corncrake is making a comeback on the Scottish Islands, especially on Iona and here on the Ross of Mull (Fidden), due to the farmers cutting the hayfields later in the season. This allows the corncrake to breed without being disturbed. The Isle of Iona in particular has seen an increase in the numbers of corncrake and they are now spreading outwards to Fidden and Creich on the Ross of Mull. All these locations are easily accessible from Seaview. There are also corncrakes on the Treshnish Isles (see Treshnish Trips).

The corncrake arrives from mid April onwards from as far away as Africa crossing the Sahara desert enroute to the western isles of Scotland and then leaves again in August. In flight the corncrakes bright chestnut coloured wings and trailing legs are unmistakeable. They nest in hollows at ground level in the reeds, iris beds and meadows. Generally a solitary bird except when nesting it is reclusive and secretive hiding in tall reeds, grass and yellow iris in damp areas in fields around Iona village and Abbey. The corncrake's presence is betrayed by a rasping 'crek crek' call (which sounds like a very loud grasshopper!) and by May and June they are heard in the very early morning and evening throughout Iona. You are more likely to hear them than see them, but if you are patient enough and are prepared to sit and wait you will be rewarded with a sighting.

Don't take the car - you can't on Iona anyway, but listen! listen! listen! Once you have identified the area the call is coming from, then watch! watch! watch!. Silence and patience is the key to success.

The photograph of the corncrake was taken by Jane in the summer of 2005 when she was on Lunga. At the time Jane was returning to the boat and whilst coming down the path towards the beach she could hear this very loud rasping grasshopper sound coming from the tall grass and undergrowth nearby..............and then as bold as you like a corncrake appeared and continued to make this awful racket. Not quite believing her luck, Jane captured the bird on camera by simply pointing the camera and clicking away whilst gently walking towards it, hoping that at least one of the photographs would come out clear enough to prove she had seen and not just heard this rather elusive bird! Talk about beginner's luck!

 
SEALS AROUND OUR COAST

Common seals sunbathing in Red Bay near Fionnphort Isle of MullThe Common Seal Phocca Vitulina and the Grey or Atlantic Seal Halichoerus grypus are found around the coastline of Mull and the surrounding remote islands.

The Common Seal has a blunt or flattish head, while the Grey Seal has a more pronounced nose or snout. The Common Seal have their young in the summer, and the Grey Seals have their white furry pups in the autumn. The seals you usually see basking on the rocks around the Ross of Mull at Fidden, Erraid and Red Bay are Common Seals. John is able to help you in locating and viewing the seals.

Common Seals are well camouflaged for their environment living ashore in sheltered waters around the Ross of Mull. The young seal pups are born in July/July and have sleek coats and flippers; within a coupe of hours they are able to swim and for a couple of months swim close to their mother.


John feeding Sammy the seal Fionnphort pierSammy
the seal, an old fat seal with a scar across its back is resident at Fionnphort pier and is fed by local fishermen. He waits until he hears the fishing boats coming in, either to moor up for the day or to land their catch and then Sammy makes his appearance. He has become a great summer attraction for visitors old and young alike. This photograph shows John feeding Sammy some 'Fingal's Breakfast' many summers ago. When we last saw Sammy he was accompanied by a 'friend' but we don't know if it was male or female. Either way Sammy is obviously passing on his knowledge of 'fishing'

Grey Seals, during birth and breeding times generally come together in the offshore islands  around the Ross of Mull and Treshnish isles in September through to November. Three weeks after giving birth the females conceive again. The mothers come ashore during this time to feed the beached white furry pups. In this time the pup puts on an enormous amount of weight due to the rich milk. The pup then quickly fends for itself, learns to swim, and loses it white fur quickly developing its adult sea going coat.
 
 

EVERYONES FAVOURITE - PUFFINS
 

Puffins are members of the Auk family or Alcidae. In Britain there are three other members of this family who nest around our shores - the Guillemot, Razorbill and Black Guillemot. The puffin that visits us here on Staffa and the other Treshnish Isles is the Atlantic Puffin.

This wee fella, is about 30 cm tall and has a wing span of about 45 cm; it is black above and white below with a white face; the plumage is similar for both male and female. The bill is spectacular - brightly coloured and ridged in summer, orange, red, yellow and blue. The eye is brown and surrounded by a bright red ring; above and below the eye are hard pieces of grey skin and behind the eye is a distinct crease in the feathers. The legs and feet are red with black toenails.

The Puffin walks in an upright position which gives it a Penguin like stance and it is adept at swimming under water, using its wings half folded. The wings are small for the size and weight of the bird and this means that Puffins have to flap very fast, between 300-400 beats a minute, to keep themselves airborne.

Puffins are expert at gliding into high winds on the cliffs and manoeuvre using their feet as rudders - they are not particularly graceful at landing, very often crash landing into the scrub on the cliffs.

In the winter, the plumage is quite different - much less colourful, but as they are far out to sea in the winter months they are rarely observed. The Puffins return to land in late March or early April.

Puffin colonies can be on flat grassy topped islands or cliff tops, grassy slopes, vegetated cliffs and even in crannies and among boulders. The islands around Mull are in fact ideal nesting sites. Puffins nest underground, unlike their cousins the Razorbills and Guillemots. They excavate a burrow, approximately 2 metres long, a bit like a rabbit burrow and at the end is the nesting chamber where they lay a single white egg.

Many of the burrows are used year after year and as long as they return early and have survived the winter, the same pair of Puffins tend to come back to the same burrow. At other times, a new pair must excavate a fresh burrow in the cliff, usually at the edge of a large colony. Puffins are skilled miners: they have sharp powerful bills which pull at the soil and turf and the claws on their bright red feet are extremely strong and sharp. It takes many days to dig a new burrow so new pairs are keen where possible to use unoccupied burrows.

Puffins on StaffaPuffins often nest near rabbits - sometimes they take over rabbit burrows. As burrows are being refurbished or new burrows excavated, display among the Puffins increases daily. The pair is together nearly all of the time; the male is slightly bigger and his bill is larger, brighter and ore distinctly ridged. The main display between the pair is billing and cooing with the birds touching bills and gently nibbling each other's head and neck feathers.

Mating takes place on the sea after the male has goner through a ritual of head flicking and wing fluttering. A single egg is laid in the nest chamber and is incubated by both parents which lasts between 38-43 days. Puffins coming ashore with fish in their bills are the first signs that the eggs have begun to hatch.

The chick is very small on hatching and is covered with fluffy black down. In the early days the chick is brooded by one of the parents to keep it warm and dry but is soon left unattended as both parents go out to sea fishing. The chick is fed in the nest to start with but at a couple of weeks old it starts to meet its parents at the mouth of the burrow. Chicks grow rapidly and at six weeks old it is fully feathered; at this time the chick starts to come out of the burrow at night and then finally one night at about 7 weeks it leaves the burrow altogether and flies out to sea.

Information courtesy of Roy Dennis's book 'Puffins'; photographs taken by John & Jane Noddings, Bob Winnings & Roger Morgan

 
DEER

There are three species of deer on Mull - red, roe deer and fallow deer. The most common of the three species you are likely to see is the red deer - these are quite active at dusk and dawn as they come down from the hills to graze in more open land; during the winter months the deer come down from the mountains to forage on the lower ground and you are very likely to see them whilst driving through Glen More. Species information supplied courtesy of The British Deer Society

RED DEER (Cervus elaphus)

The Red Deer is the largest land-mammal in the UK. Summer coat is reddish brown to brown, winter coat is brown to grey. No spots present in adult coat. Large, highly branched antlers in the stag (male).
Adult size: Stags 90-190kg, 107-137cm at shoulder. Females (hinds) 63-120kg, up to 107-122cm at shoulder.
Antlers: Highly branched. The number of branches increases with age. Up to 16 points in native animals. The angle between the brow tine and the main beam is always more than 90 degrees.
Life span: Exceptionally up to 18 years. Heavy infant mortality at and shortly after birth and during first winter in some Scottish hill populations.
Habitat: Within its range in England and southern Scotland occurs in woodlands and forests but can adapt to open moor and hill on Scottish hills and south-west England.
Food & feeding: Grazers of grasses, and dwarf shrubs e.g. heather and bilberry. Woody browse, e.g. tree shoots, is taken when other food is limiting e.g. during winter
Origins & history: Red deer migrated into Britain from Europe 11000 years ago. They were used extensively by Mesolithic man as a source of food, skins and tools (bones and antlers). Neolithic man developed agriculture and cleared swathes of forest to make way for fields. This loss of forest encouraged the decline of red deer populations, which became confined to the Scottish Highlands, south-west England and a few other small, scattered populations. The Normans protected red deer in parks and "forests" (often devoid of trees!) for royal hunting, but this protection was lost during the Mediaeval period causing another decline in numbers in England. Victorian re-introductions of "improved" stock (often inter-bred with larger related species such as Wapiti), escapes from deer parks, natural spread and increase in the Highlands and an increase in forest and woodland cover since the early 20th century mean that red deer are now widely distributed in Britain and are expanding in range and number.
Social organisation: In woodlands red deer are largely solitary or occur as mother and calf groups. On open ground, larger, single sex groups assemble, only mixing during the rut and in the Highlands of Scotland large groups may persist for most of the year.
Vocalisation:
Stags roar and grunt during the rut. Hinds bark when alarmed and moo when searching for their young. Calves emit a high-pitched squeal when alarmed and may bleat to their mother.
The rut:
The breeding season, or rut, occurs from the end of September to November. Stags return to hind's home ranges and compete for access to hinds by engaging in elaborate displays of dominance including roaring, parallel walks and fighting. Serious injury and death can result but fighting only occurs between stags of similar size that can not assess dominance by any of the other means. The dominant stag then ensures exclusive mating with the hinds.
Breeding:
Only stags over 5 years old tend to achieve matings despite being sexually mature much earlier (before their 2nd  birthday in productive woodland populations). In woodland populations hinds over a year old give birth to a single calf after an 8 month gestation, between mid-May to mid-July each year. Puberty may be delayed until 3 years old in hill hinds, which may give birth only once every 2 or 3 years.
Activity: Red deer are active throughout the 24-hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations experiencing frequent disturbance. Peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk. In the Highlands of Scotland red deer use the open hill during the day and descend to lower ground during the night.
Economic factors: Grazing of tree shoots and agricultural crops puts red deer in conflict with farmers and foresters due to economic damage. Conversely, many country and forest estates can gain substantial revenue from recreational stalking and/or venison production. Red deer are also farmed for their venison and are kept as ornamental park species in the UK. Whether in conflict or used as a resource, red deer populations require careful management to maintain health and quality and ensure a sustainable balance with their environment.

ROE DEER (Capreolus capreolus) Image supplied courtesy of The British Deer Society

Roe deerAdult Size: 10 to 25kg, 60 to 75cm at shoulder (bucks - males slightly larger than does - females).
Colouration: Summer: reddish brown. Winter: grey, pale brown or (occasionally) black.
Antlers: Rugose, short (<30cm), 3 tines (points) on each.
Lifespan: Max: 16 years. Bucks rarely exceed 5 years, does 6 to 7 years. Heavy mortality at and shortly after birth and during first winter.

Social groups: Solitary, forming small groups in winter.
Time of birth: May to June.
Number of offspring: Up to 3, usually 1 or 2 kids.
Gestation period: 9 months (4 months of  no embryonic growth followed by 5 months of foetal growth).
Food & feeding: Browsers that actively select different food types including herbs, brambles, ivy, heather, bilberry & coniferous tree shoots.
Habitat: Woodland and forest, but may occupy fields when at high densities.
Status: Common & widespread. UK Distribution. Throughout Scotland and England except parts of Kent and the Midlands. 
Recognition: Small & elegant. White rump patch with short tush in females. Black nose, white chin.
Origins & history: Roe deer are native to Britain, having been present since before the Mesolithic period (6000 to 10000 years b.p.). Forest clearance and over-hunting led to roe deer becoming extinct in England by 1800 but remained in wooded patches in Scotland. Several reintroductions during Victorian times and their subsequent, natural spread aided by an increase in woodland and forest planting in the 20th century has meant that roe deer have become widespread and abundant today.
The rut: The rut, or breeding season, occurs between mid-July to mid-August. Bucks become aggressive and maintain exclusive territories around one or more does prior to this period. Fights between bucks can result in serious injury or death, the winner taking over the losers territory or attendant doe. Does do not maintain exclusive territories but live within overlapping home ranges. Males usually mate with several females and females mating with several males has also been observed. Courtship involves chasing between the buck and doe for some time until the doe is ready to mate.
Activity: Roe deer are active throughout the 24-hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations experiencing frequent disturbance. Peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk. Long periods are spent "lying up", which is where the deer lies down to ruminate between feeding bouts.
Economic factors: Browsing of tree shoots and agricultural crops puts roe deer in conflict with farmers and foresters due to economic damage. Conversely, many country and forest estates can gain substantial revenue from recreational stalking and/or venison production. Whether in conflict or used as a resource, roe deer populations require careful management to maintain health and quality and to ensure a sustainable balance with their environment.
Vocalisation: When alarmed bucks and does (males and females) give a short bark, which is often repeated. During the rut does make a high-pitched piping call to attract a buck who makes a rasping noise as he courts the doe.
Delayed implantation: Although mating occurs in August the fertilised egg does not implant and grow until January. This is thought to be an adaptation to avoid giving birth during harsh northern winters.

FALLOW DEER (Dama dama)

Recognition: Intermediate in size between roe and red deer. There are four main variations in coat but many minor variations also exist including a long-haired version found in Mortimer forest, Shropshire. The common variety is the familiar tan/fawn colour with white spotting (becoming long and grey with indistinct spots in winter) on the flanks and white rump patch outlined with characteristic black horse-shoe. The Menil variety is paler, lacks the black bordered rump and keeps its white spots all year. The black variety is almost entirely black with no white coloration anywhere. Finally, the white variety can be white to sandy coloured and becomes more white at adulthood. This is a true colour variety and not albinism, which is rare. The fallow is the only British deer with palmate antlers.
Adult size: Bucks (males): 84 to 94cm at shoulder, 46 to 94kg. Does (females): 73 to 91cm at shoulder, 35 to 56kg.
Antlers: Palmate in adult (>3 years), increase in size with age, up to 70cm long.
Life span: Exceptionally, 16 years, bucks (males) rarely exceed 8 to 10 years.
Status: Non-native but considered naturalised. Locally abundant and increasing.
UK distribution: Widespread in England and Wales, patchy in Scotland.
Habitat: Mature broadleaf woodland with under-storey, open coniferous woodland, open agricultural land.
Food & feeding: Preferential grazers of grasses although trees and dwarf shrub shoots will be taken during autumn and winter.
Origins & history: The extant species of fallow deer found in Britain was introduced by the Normans in the 10th century although some would suggest that the Romans attempted to introduce it here much earlier. Fallow deer were prized as ornamental species and were protected in Royal Hunting "Forests" for royal sport. During Mediaeval times many deer parks that held fallow deer were established and these and more recent park escapees have given rise to the free-living populations in Britain today.
Social Organisation: Group sizes as well as the degree of sexual segregation varies according to population density and habitat. Groups of adult males and females, usually with young, remain apart for most of the year in large woodlands, only coming together to breed. Sexes freely mix in large herds throughout the year in open, agricultural environments. 
Vocalisation: During the rut bucks groan tremendously and does with fawns give a short bark when alarmed.
The rut: Behaviour is dependent upon the environment and population density. In most populations bucks maintain a traditional, defended rutting stand. In others a temporary rutting stand is maintained to attract sufficient does to herd them into a harem. In areas with very high buck densities a lek may be formed. In lower density areas bucks may simply seek out receptive females. During conflict, the escalation of display behaviour in bucks, from groaning and parallel walks to fighting, is in common with other larger species of deer.
Breeding:  Adult does give birth to a single fawn in June after a gestation of 229 days.
Activity: Fallow deer are active throughout the 24-hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations experiencing frequent disturbance. Peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk. Most hours of the day time are spent "lying up", which is where the deer lies down to ruminate between feeding bouts.
Economic factors: Browsing of tree shoots and agricultural crops puts fallow deer in conflict with farmers and foresters due to the potential economic damage. Their propensity for reaching very high local densities can result in high local levels of damage. Conversely, many country and forest estates can gain substantial revenue from recreational stalking and/or venison production. Fallow deer are also farmed for their venison and are one of the most important ornamental park species in the UK. Whether in conflict or used as a resource, fallow deer populations require careful management to maintain health and quality and ensure a sustainable balance with their environment.

 
WHALES, DOLPHINS & PORPOISES AROUND OUR SHORES

starlight the dolphin isle of mullThis information has been provided directly from the website of the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust which is a small charity based in Tobermory at the north end of the island. The Trust employ several members of staff and volunteers who conduct research, provide education and carry out important conservation work of several of our cetaceans found around the shores of the west coast of Scotland.


WHAT IS A CETACEAN?


Whales, dolphins and porpoises belong to a single group of marine mammals called the cetaceans (order Cetacea). The word cetacean comes from the Latin ‘cetus’ meaning large sea creature, and the ancient Greek ‘ketos’ meaning sea monster. Cetaceans are marine mammals that evolved from their land mammal ancestors around 55 - 60 million years ago and have adapted perfectly to an aquatic life during this time. There are currently about 83 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise in the world, but new species are still being discovered; 24 of these have been recorded in the waters off western Scotland.

Cetaceans are mammals that are insulated by a thick layer of blubber (fat) in order to maintain a body temperature of about 37C. They surface to breathe air through their blowholes, which close automatically below water. Most species have a dorsal (back) fin, ranging from a small bump on a sperm whale to a tall killer whale fin; all species have two pectoral (side) fins and a fluke (tail).

Cetaceans are divided into two groups:

Odontocetes – the toothed cetaceans, containing about 70 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise. As well as teeth, all species have a single blowhole. Odontocetes use echolocation to find food and to navigate. The most numerous family is the Delphinidae, which includes all of the oceanic dolphins.
Mysticetes – the baleen cetaceans, containing about 13 species. Instead of teeth, all species have baleen plates growing from their upper jaw which sieve prey such as small schooling fish and plankton from the water. Baleen is made from keratin, the same substance as human hair and fingernails. Mysticetes have two blowholes and are not known to echolocate.

Cetaceans and Sound

Sound is very important to all cetaceans: they have sensitive hearing and use a range of sounds to communicate, to locate food, to avoid predators and to navigate. Vocalisations can be divided into two types:
1. Tonal calls, such as whistles, ‘whale song’ and groans are used chiefly for communication,
2. Clicks, either singular or in bursts, are mainly used to explore the environment and find food.

Many cetaceans are highly vocal and produce sound to communicate with one another. These sounds range from simple calls to keep a group together or to display aggression, to more complex repertoires displayed during breeding seasons, such as the humpback whale ‘song’. Odontocetes have developed sophisticated echolocation systems, where sound emitted in a directional beam hits an object and the ‘echo’ that returns allows the cetacean to locate, identify and range the object. Researchers onboard Silurian can listen to and record the sounds made by cetaceans; this means that animals can be detected which are not visible, either because they are underwater, or because the environmental conditions, such as a rough sea, make it hard to see them.

Migration

All cetaceans make daily movements in order to find food. Some of the species seen in the Hebrides, including the bottlenose dolphin and the harbour porpoise, are believed to be resident all year round and occupy a range along the west coast of Scotland. Others make seasonal migrations between warm water breeding grounds and cold water feeding grounds. Minke whales and common dolphins, amongst other species, are frequently seen off western Scotland between May and September taking advantage of the abundant fish. Occasionally humpback whales are seen in Hebridean waters; these whales are known to make one of the longest seasonal migrations between breeding grounds off Africa to feeding grounds around Iceland and Norway.

Reproduction

As mammals, cetaceans give birth to live young following a gestation period of between 8 and 16 months. A single calf is born tail first and must be lifted to the surface by its mother to breathe. Cetaceans are social animals and other females may offer assistance in lifting, protecting and even feeding newborn calves. Feeding on a fat-rich, nutritious milk, growth is very fast. For example, a newborn blue whale consumes more than 100 litres of milk per day and grows from roughly seven metres at birth to 15 metres at seven months of age. Calves stay close to their mothers, and will suckle for anywhere between several months to several years, depending on the species and the environmental circumstances. For cetaceans in general, low reproductive rates are offset by relatively long life spans and high survivorship of calves due to intensive parental care.

Life in the Ocean

Cetaceans are well-adapted to a life beneath the waves having evolved for millions of years from land mammal ancestors. The body is streamlined to reduce drag and energy usage; external features including the ears and reproductive organs are tucked inside the body behind slits; cetaceans have no hind limbs although some vestigial bone fragments of the pelvis and legs can remain. Unlike land mammals, cetaceans have do not have hair (although some species may have a couple of facial whiskers) or fur coats because this would further increase drag. They are instead covered in a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm in the cold sea. Their fore-flippers have a bone structure similar to a human hand, but bones are elongated and webbed with skin to help with swimming. The dorsal fin aids stability in the water and the tail provides powerful propulsion by beating up and down. The nasal openings have migrated to the top of the head to form one or two blowholes to make it easier to breathe at the surface.

Cetaceans are able to dive to great depths for extended periods to hunt for food. Sperm whales can dive to depths of 2500 metres for up to two hours. They are able to store huge amounts of oxygen in their blood and muscles, and divert oxygen to the brain and heart. The lungs actually collapse under great pressure during a deep dive; some whales are thought to suffer from ‘the bends’ (decompression illness) if they surface too rapidly.

 

Last amended 03/01/2014
2000 - 2014