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An article in the official NatureScot blog celebrates the “wonderful work” of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in compiling sightings by the public over the last 30 years.

The Minke whale photographic catalogue published late last year reveals that 300 identified individuals have visited the Hebrides since 1990. A third (33%) have been spotted more than once, while others have been sighted over many years or on numerous occasions.

Says the blog: “Minke whales migrate to western Scotland’s seas each summer to feed in the exceptionally rich waters. The substantial timespan of the research is shedding new light on their lives and is building a long-term picture about their numbers, range and behaviour, and how best to protect them.”

Minke whales migrate to Scotland’s western seaboard to feed in its exceptionally rich waters. Photographs of their dorsal fins are a “powerful tool” in understanding whale movements, the threats they face, and informing effective conservation.

Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Science and Conservation Manager, tells the NatureScot blog: “This catalogue of identifiable whales is testament to the dedicated community of citizen scientists who diligently submit their sightings and photographs to us. Thanks to so many people over 30 years, we know our seas are world-class habitats which need to be better protected and restored.”

Each year, the public and wildlife-watching crews share thousands of images with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust via a community sightings website and smartphone app called Whale Track. Trust volunteers also capture images during expeditions on its research yacht, Silurian.

The images are then examined for specific markings or features that help identify and catalogue individual whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks.

The Trust is therefore appealing to the public for more images, either past or present, that will help determine if certain individuals have been passing through or making regular return visits to Hebridean waters.

The Minke whale catalogue is helping Trust scientists assess the health of whales and the threats they face from human activities, including warming seas, that threaten marine ecosystems due to climate change, pollution, and habitat degradation.

From the data currently available, some 22% of Minke whales show scars and injuries from being entangled in marine litter and fishing gear.

The whales are also a target species for commercial Icelandic and Norwegian whalers. The Minke whales they hunt are thought to be from the Hebridean population, but more information is required to understand their movements fully.

Adds the NatureScot blog: “The Trust hopes its catalogue will help strengthen international understanding of whale movements through collaboration with researchers in other countries and contribute to wide-scale conservation action to protect these animals throughout their range.

“The Trust’s marine scientists are conducting further in-depth analysis of the photo-identification findings to better understand how faithful minke whales are to the Hebrides and identify any specific areas of importance. This is crucial for effective conservation and management strategies.”

The public can submit whale and dolphin photographs via the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Whale Track website, whaletrack.hwdt.org, its free smartphone app, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The charity also recruits paying volunteers for its annual research expeditions onboard Silurian.

The Minke Whale Photo-Identification Catalogue for the West Coast of Scotland 1990-2020 is available on the Trust’s website at www.hwdt.org. The publication was made possible thanks to WWF-UK, William Grant Foundation and Postcode Animal Trust funding.


Image credits: Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust