A rarely seen species of dolphin has been spotted between Scilly and the Cornish coast for the first time by citizen science volunteers.
ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors on board the Scillonian III passenger ferry to the Isles of Scilly sighted a pod of striped dolphin during their survey on Saturday - the first ever reported sighting of this species in the area.
The three person team were on the bridge of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group's ferry on the way back from St Mary’s to Penzance looking out for marine life as part of the ORCA OceanWatch project when one of the team called out the sighting.
The group scrambled to catch a better view and some pictures, but unfortunately the animals disappeared from view before they could.
However, it offers a tantalising hint that, as has been long suspected, striped dolphins do venture from their more typical habitats to visit the Cornish coast.
ORCA’s Head of Science & Conservation, Lucy Babey, said: “This is a sensational finding and is the first solid evidence of striped dolphins in the area. Though we have seen them stranded (live and dead) around the Cornish coast there has never been a sighting of this species in the water and we are so proud of the team for their eagle eyes on this trip.”
“The only disappointment is that only one member of the team saw the animals and no photos were snapped – as it stands we have to downgrade the sighting to ‘likely striped dolphin’ since it is such an unusual occurrence!”
“However, the surveyor in question is one of our most experienced and we are 100% confident it wasn’t one of the other dolphin species commonly seen in the area.”
ORCA OceanWatch is now in its third year of looking out for sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) to help raise awareness of the rich diversity of marine wildlife around the UK coastline.
ORCA is once again being supported by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, asking passengers aboard the Scillonian - as well as visitors and residents on the Isles of Scilly - to report any sightings or pictures.
ORCA are hoping that more striped dolphins will be seen in the area over the coming weeks, and have asked people in the area to keep their eyes peeled.
“In particular, they have distinctive dark stripes going from the eye towards the tail and another towards the pectoral fins, as well as a lighter blaze that swoops up towards the top of the back." Lucy added. “They are also amongst the most active species in UK waters and are often seen jumping, breaching and playing.”
To learn how to get involved in National Whale & Dolphin Watch, visit http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/nwdw/.