Back in 2010, the first North East Cetacean Project report identified May as the best month to see Bottlenose Dolphins in North East England. In 2012 we finally had evidence that they move south past our coast in October, and 2013 backed that up. This year, we're seeing something unprecedented...
In late March I received a report of White-beaked Dolphins off the mouth of the River Tyne. Not out of the question, but quite early in the year for them to be close inshore. I managed to track down some images that were taken of the dolphins, and reidentified them as Bottlenose Dolphins. Again, slightly early, but no doubt about the ID. Since then there have been almost daily reports (including more that have been misidentified as White-beaked Dolphin), covering an area of the east coast from St Abb's Head in the North to Whitby and Scarborough in the south. The largest group reported so far is of 50 animals, and it seems likely that we have 50+ animals ranging up and down the coast in search of food.
Discussion with colleagues in Scotland, and study of images of BND from North East England in the last two months, indicates that the animals currently present down here are from the Moray/Tay/Forth populations and have been impacted by limited food supply in their 'expected' location. If the distance they seem to be covering in our area is also due to not finding a suitable food source here, then this is quite worrying. Some people consider their occurrence off the north east coast to be an exciting development, and few people wouldn't enjoy watching a pod of dolphins, but an informed understanding of the species' ecology and distribution will have many conservationists concerned about what has driven this unprecedented event, and what the potential consequences for Bottlenose Dolphin and the two small cetaceans that are regular off North East England (Harbour Porpoise and White-beaked Dolphin) could be.
If you have any images of Bottlenose Dolphin taken anywhere on the east coast of England in the last two months, we'd really appreciate the opportunity to compare them with the existing BND catalogues for other areas so that we can identify exactly which animals are present here, and where they are expected to be at this time. Images can be emailed (original, unedited files as downloaded from your camera please) to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll acknowledge you as a contributor when we publish our findings about this unusual occurrence.