Belfast Telegraph

Giant leap for Strangford as short-beaked dolphins frolic in lough for first time

By Linda Stewart

Two research scientists gathering seaweed have captured the startling moment a pair of dolphins decided to start frolicking in the waters near the mouth of Strangford Lough.

The marine mammals were captured breaching the surface and leaping into the air repeatedly close to the Minesto sea kite underwater turbine - also a popular spot with the local porpoises.

Dr Karen Mooney managed to take six minutes of gripping footage on her mobile phone after the alert was raised by Dr Louise Kregting, her colleague at the Queen's University Marine Lab in Portaferry.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group later revealed that it was the first validated sighting record of the short-beaked common dolphin in Strangford Lough and only the second record of the species appearing in the waters off the Co Down coast.

Dr Mooney, project manager of the QUB section of the international EnAlgae research project investigating uses for seaweed, said she was on her way to the longlines where the weed is cultivated when the dolphins put on their magnificent show.

"We were heading out in the boat on Wednesday morning to check the lines round Jackdaw Island when Louise saw a bit of splashing in the lough," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "We went out in the boat and just circled round the area for about six minutes.

"They seem to like playing in between the sea kite turbine and Audley's Castle on the shore."

The pair were captured on film breaching the water, leaping, rolling onto their backs and belly-flopping.

"We sent the footage to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and they said it was the first recorded footage of a sighting of this species in Strangford Lough and only the second sighting of the common dolphin on the Co Down coast," said Dr Mooney.

"The first time they were seen was off the Copeland Islands.

The video can be viewed on YouTube at http://youtu.be/C9IWQM206rk.

Background

Short-beaked common dolphins are gregarious and live in herds ranging from a few tens to several thousands. They are active and boisterous and often bow-ride boats, ships and even large whales. Breaching and surface slaps using the flippers are not uncommon. They are highly vocal, producing a wide range of whistles and pulsed sounds. The most useful field identification features of the short-beaked common dolphin are the yellowish/ochre patches on the sides in front of the dorsal fin and the V formed by the intersection of the different colours just below the dorsal fin.

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