Cetacean species around the Hebrides

A third of all cetacean species have been recorded around the Hebrides. The most common species have been described in further detail on this site, however below is some further information in case you are especially lucky and see one of these rarer species.

Northern Bottlenose Whale –

A beaked whale, up to 9.8 metres in length
Dark grey back, with a distinctive forehead (melon) and beak and a small curved fin.
A deep water specialist, this species primarily feeds on squid
Infrequent visitors, can be confused with Minke Whales, due to the size and shape of the dorsal fin, but have a visible blow unlike Minke Whales and a very different head shape

Humpback Whale

A baleen whale, up to 17 metres long
Dark back, with a distinctive hump and small dorsal fin, white underside and long white pectoral fins.
Feed mainly on plankton, Cod and Herring
Encountered around the Hebrides on migration from their tropical breeding grounds in Africa to summer feeding grounds around Norway and Iceland.
Visible, bushy blow up to 4 metres high.
Fin Whale –

Fin Whale

A baleen whale and at up to 27 metres in length the second largest animal on the planet
Dark grey back and pale underneath, small fin located far along the back.
Unusual in the fact that they have a black left-hand lower jaw and the right hand side is white.
They have a tall columnar blow.
Feed on a range of fish species and krill.
Little is known about their migration; however the occasional sightings around the Hebrides tend to occur in the summer months. This species prefers coastal and inshore waters for feeding and there is a good population off the coast of Ireland, which can be seen from June through to December, with the highest sightings rate being in November and December.

Sperm Whale

Largest of the toothed whales, males to 18 metres and females to 11 metres.
Dark grey. Brown back, no actual dorsal fin, but a triangular shaped hump on the back
Can dive to depths of 2500 metres to feed on a range of squid species
They will spend up to 2 hours underwater after which they will usually spend time logging at the surface to recover
One blowhole on the left hand side, which produces a bushy, forward angled blow.

White-beaked Dolphin

Robust dolphin up to 3.1 metres
Limited range of temperate and sub-arctic waters of North Atlantic
Tall dark, falcate dorsal fin, short beak that is almost entirely white, dark grey back with paler patches behind the dorsal fin and along the sides
Feed on fish, squid and crustaceans
Sightings have declined over the past few years as Common Dolphin sightings have increased; it may be because the 2 species compete for food.

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin

A robust species, between 2.4 and 2.8 metres.
A narrow distribution range inhabiting the cool temperate and sub-arctic waters of the North Atlantic only
Distinctive looking species, with a dark grey back and dorsal fin, pale grey side stripe from the eye to the tail, with a white stripe in the middle of the flank and a yellow patch near the tail
More commonly found around the continental shelf, west of the Outer Hebrides -  however they will come into more coastal areas in the summer
Very acrobatic and can be seen leaping clear of the water, they tend to bow ride less than some other species
Herring, Cod and Squid are their main prey, but they will also feed on a range of other species including shrimp, mackerel and sandeels.
These species are the ones that whilst not common have been seen on a number of occasions, the list below details sightings that are extremely rare within the Hebrides.

Sei Whale, North Atlantic Right Whale, Blue Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whale, Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, Narwhal, Beluga, False Killer Whale, Long Finned Pilot Whale, Striped Dolphin and Fraser’s Dolphin.

Many thanks to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group for some of the photographs on this page. Click here for more info.