Highlands & Islands

Sunburned dolphin spotted in Moray Firth

Sunburned dolphin Spirtle Image copyright University of Aberdeen
Image caption The dolphin, known as Spirtle, has been spotted by scientists for the first time since her stranding at the end of May

A bottlenose dolphin that was sunburned while stranded out of water on mudflats for 24 hours in May appears to be recovering from its injuries.

The young animal was found by chance at the Cromarty Firth by a couple who had got lost trying to drive to a dolphin-watching spot at the Moray Firth.

Animal welfare officers and members of the public refloated the dolphin.

It was sighted again for the first time this month in the Moray Firth by University of Aberdeen scientists.

The university and the Inverness-based Scottish Marine Strandings Scheme (SMASS) said that for the first time in the UK scientists have been able to track a dolphin's behaviour following a stranding.

There are hopes the dolphin might eventually breed and raise young.

Normal behaviour

SMASS said the blistering on the right side of the juvenile female looked "horrific", but because of the make-up of dolphins' skin it has survived a burn that other animals might not have.

Also, crucially, the wound does not appear to be infected and shows signs of healing.

Image copyright University of Aberdeen
Image caption The dolphin's unharmed left side

The dolphin has been showing signs of normal behaviour, including foraging.

It is part of a group of about 200 animals known to the University of Aberdeen marine scientists as the East Coast Scotland population.

Barbara Cheney, research fellow at the university's Lighthouse Field Station in Cromarty, said: "We've not seen anything like this before. It is quite a unique case and hopefully we will be able to continue to keep an eye on her."

'Got lost'

Dr Andrew Brownlow, of Scotland's Rural College-run SMASS, said it was "a miracle" the dolphin was spotted in the first place on a large expanse of tidal mudflats.

He said: "This couple had wanted to go to Chanonry Point and got lost.

"They read their map wrong and ended up on the Nigg peninsula. This whole region dries out almost entirely and they spotted the dolphin flapping in the mud."

Dr Brownlow, along with volunteers from British Divers Marine Life Rescue and also the Scottish SPCA and staff from North 58 Sea Adventures, were involved in refloating the animal.

Following the rescue on 29 May, Spirtle disappeared until she was indentified from her wound by the university scientists.

Image copyright University of Aberdeen
Image caption Spirtle's wound does not appear to be infected and shows signs of healing, say experts

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