Award Winning Dolphin Trip
One Saturday morning back in September Lyndsey and I headed off with great excitement to Cromarty. As part of my prize for winning the Scottish Nature Photography Awards wildlife behavioural category I had been given a trip for two on the Ecoventures boat. I was particularly excited by this as twenty five years ago; in the infancy of my career as a photographer I used to spend many a fine day on the Dolphin Eccose dolphin watching boat. That’s where I first met Sarah, the owner of Ecoventures. Of course back then we were nothing but young loons!
Ecoventures is based in the beautiful village of Cromarty on the Black Isle. Sarah and her team have been running wildlife watching tours now since 2004 and they operate a very impressive 12 seater, 300hp Rib. I must admit that not only was I highly impressed by both the comfort and smoothness of the ride, the performance from the twin 150hp outboards is rather impressive. That boat can really shift!
As Saturday dawned we were slightly concerned we may not even get out on our trip. A thick vale of fog hung over the Inverness and Moray Firths. I’ve lived here long enough to know that with the aid of a gentle breeze and the help of the rising sun, the fog can clear very quickly. This is exactly what happened and by the time we arrived in Cromarty the water was calm and the skies were blue.
After a safety briefing we were issued with wet weather clothing and life jackets. It was then a very short walk down to the picturesque harbour and in no time at all we were out on the water. Firstly Sarah took us for a close up look at the many oil rigs that anchor in the Cromarty Firth. Some of these are in limbo until they are required; others are being de-commissioned as they have past their ‘use by date’. The base of one of these rigs was covered in Shags and Cormorants, it never ceases to amaze me how wildlife adapts to what we provide for it and on the previous day there had even been a sighting of a Peregrine, probably attracted to the pigeons.
We then left the mirror calm waters of the Cromarty Firth and passed into the more open waters of the Moray Firth, this is done so by passing through two opposing headlands called the Suitors. A quick scan of the area yielded no dolphins, although we did see Eider, Razorbills and Guillemots. I was particularly excited to see one of my all-time favourite bird species, an Arctic Skua. Sarah decided our best bet to see Dolphins was to hug the coastline and head south, apparently sightings in this area over the past few days had been good.
We cruised down to Rosemarkie before we made contact with a large pod of about twenty five dolphins, the engines were cut and we just held station. Happily the dolphins decided to check out the boat and a one point we were literally surrounded! The look on Lyndsey’s face was priceless as one of the adult dolphins passed right underneath us. Within the group there were two very young calves and a couple of yearlings. The calves are very hard to photograph from a steady shore, so to try to capture an image of one from a wobbling boat is a real challenge. Some of the adult dolphins had a play around and breached a couple of times. I’m disappointed to say my reactions weren’t quick enough, so no pictures of that then! What I did manage to get was lots of interesting close up details of the individuals markings. These vary from raking teeth marks to chunks taken out of the dorsal fins. The unique characteristics of these nicks and scrapes are how to identify the individual dolphins.
Time flew by and before we knew it we were whizzing northwards back to the harbour at Cromarty. Isn’t amazing how the minutes melt way when you’re so engrossed in something? Both Lyndsey and I really enjoyed our trip and look forward to our next.
Thank you to both the organisers of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards and to Sarah and the crew at Ecoventures, not only for donating the prize, but for their hospitality. It comes as no surprise to us that they are in the running for the Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards. We hope you win it girls, you deserve it!