A €3million scientific research programme is hosted at the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), Scotland’s largest offshore wind test and demonstration facility – and we are proud to be part of it!

The Scottish east coast bottlenose dolphin population has been studied since 1989 based on the ability to identify individual animals from photographs of the scratches, nicks and notches on their dorsal fins. To improve the understanding of bottlenose dolphin ranging patterns along the east coast of Scotland, SMRU Consulting has teamed up with Prof Philip Hammond from the Sea Mammal Research Unit of the University of St. Andrews to intensify sampling in the Tay Estuary and adjacent areas over the next three years. The resulting data will be integrated with data from intensive sampling in the Moray Firth, through ongoing collaboration with Prof Paul Thompson from the University of Aberdeen Lighthouse Field Station in Cromarty.

Improving understanding of the north-south movements of the Scottish east coast bottlenose dolphins relies on matching photographs of individuals seen at different times in different places, hence the need for intensive sampling and for collaboration with colleagues working in the Moray Firth. When added to existing data, the new data generated over the three years of this project will enable us to answer questions about the rates of dolphin movements up and down the coast and whether there may be differences in movements between males and females, or among animals of different ages.

Many of the dolphins the team will photograph over the next three years will have been seen multiple times over many years. We can take advantage of this knowledge of the lives of these animals to inform our studies and to interpret our results, including updating estimates of population size, and mortality and birth rates. At the end of this project, improved understanding of the movements and population biology of bottlenose dolphins should help us to assess the impact of future wind energy developments off the east coast of Scotland.

Prof Hammond from SMRU said:

Studies of this dolphin population were initiated by the Universities of Aberdeen and St Andrews more than 25 years ago in the Moray Firth and extended to the Tay and Forth Estuaries in the 2000s. Despite this history, there are still important gaps in our knowledge. This project gives us the opportunity to collect sufficient photo-id data over the next three years to greatly improve our knowledge of the movements, natural mortality rates, birth rates and size of this protected population of dolphins. In turn, this information will provide the best possible basis for assessing any impacts of offshore windfarm developments.


Image by Monica Arso