Highlands & Islands

Sunburned Moray Firth dolphin spotted off Ireland

Sunburned dolphin Spirtle Image copyright University of Aberdeen
Image caption An image of Spirtle and her sunburn in 2016

A dolphin that survived being badly sunburned has surprised scientists by turning up hundreds of miles from home off Ireland's south west coast.

Spirtle was stranded out of water on mudflats for 24 hours in the Highlands' Cromarty Firth in May 2016.

She was rescued and is one of the easiest of Scotland's east coast population of bottlenose dolphins to identify because of her scars.

The new sighting of her makes Spirtle the furthest travelled of the group.

The east coast population of bottlenose dolphins feed and raise young in the Moray and Cromarty firths.

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Media captionSpirtle was spotted off Ireland's south west coast

Spirtle was a young dolphin when she got into difficulty on mudflats three years ago.

She was spotted by chance by a couple who had got lost trying to drive to a dolphin-watching spot on the Moray Firth.

Rescuers refloated Spirtle but did not think she would survive her injuries caused by severe sunburn. But her injuries have gradually healed and she appears to be thriving.

The dolphin has now become the first of her group to be record so far from the animals' usual territory.

Image copyright WDC/Charlie Phillips
Image caption A picture of Spirtle with another dolphin taken last year

Spirtle was seen in Tralee and Brandon Bay in North Kerry in Ireland at the weekend.

She was seen with other dolphins, possibly also members of the east coast population.

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen's Lighthouse Field Station at Cromarty who monitor the group have been intrigued by the sighting.

Researcher Dr Barbara Cheney said: "Individuals from this population have been seen both on the north coast of Scotland and as far south as Flamborough Head, just south of Scarborough, but this is the first sighting around Ireland.

"At present we don't understand why this has happened, but it is interesting to consider whether this is a unique occurrence or whether it has only come to light on this occasion because Spirtle is so easy to identify.

Image copyright WDC/Charlie Phillips
Image caption Spirtle's scars make her easy to indentify

"It will be informative to find out which dolphins are with Spirtle and whether they eventually come back to the east coast of Scotland."

Members of the the Irish Whale Dolphin Group spotted Spirtle and they are now hoping to photograph the dolphins with her in an effort to have them identified too.

Charlie Phillips, a Highlands-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation field officer, said: "We are still trying to work out what is going on.

"Is it lack of food in the area or is it a genetic need for new DNA in the population?

"I can't say for sure yet but it's certainly very unusual."

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