WEATHER-watchers and wildlife enthusiasts in Inverclyde will remember the summer of ’21 for two distinct reasons, writes David Carnduff.
First, there was the July heatwave which produced temperatures so high it felt like we had been transported to the tropics. The heat arrived when other countries were having floods and wild fires, blamed by many on climate change, so perhaps Inverclyde’s scorching weather — followed by this month’s downpours — was part of the global trend.
Also making the summer noteable are the frequent dolphin sightings in Inverclyde waters. Hardly a day goes past without lucky observers posting videos on social media of these charismatic marine mammals performing leaps and somersaults off our shores.
One dolphin even made a brief, but noteworthy, appearance on an STV news report about cruise ships coming to Greenock, while others were videoed “escorting” the Waverley to Customhouse Quay.
Although local waters have had regular sightings of marine mammals over the years — including the famous Clydey the whale in 1995 and the pod of orcas that showed up in the spring of 2018 — Inverclyde has never been regarded as a marine life hotspot.
So why, suddenly, are we having an upsurge in sightings? I put the question to Sorcha Cantwell, a Largs-based naturalist and environmental campaigner who has a keen interest in marine life.
She said: “It’s the same small group that are being seen all over the place at the moment. They travel large distances quite quickly. I think they may be an offshoot from the bigger pod that have been seen around Arran in recent months.”
Sorcha added they had recently been seen and photographed off Irvine so they may be following a food source.
While she was pleased to see them in local waters along with porpoises, she urged boat owners to keep a respectful distance from the animals, pointing out it is against the law to disturb them. | Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code
Meanwhile, a new report paints a surprisingly optimistic picture of the Clyde’s ecosystem after many years of over-exploitation. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have discovered huge shoals of sprats, tiny fish that are an important food source for a range of marine creatures.
The statistics are impressive. Sophisticated sonar equipment revealed some shoals were more than 1.2 miles long and over 100ft deep. The total weight of sprat in 2016 was estimated at over 70,000 tonnes, equivalent to a population size of 23 billion.
Krill — tiny plankton which are another major food source for fish and large mammals such as minke whales — were also found in large numbers in the Clyde. So the hope is that, through time, this abundance will lead to recovery of the larger animals that feed on them.
One of the scientists involved said the findings now presented a dilemma to fisheries managers and the local seafaring community. He said a sprat fishery could operate in the river, but a more sustainable and more lucrative opportunity could present itself through whale watching.
This raises interesting prospects for eco tourism locally, given the intense public interest nowadays in marine life. Whale and dolphin trips are now firmly part of the economies in several west coast coast locations, such as Mull and Wester Ross, so why not Inverclyde as well?
And it’s not just porpoises, dolphins and whales that are potential crowd-pullers. The Clyde has a selection of seabirds that are worthy of study. This includes the smart little black guillemots which raise raise their young within local harbour walls; gannets that dive spectacularly for fish, and Manx shearwaters which visit the Clyde in late summer after breeding on west coast islands.
Seals are also frequently seen around the coast.
It’s uncertain how climate change will effect the area, but the prospect of warmer summers — plus more marine life — could be a win-win situation for Inverclyde.