As a inhabitant of my bioregion, which I shall call West Argyll and the Islands after the landscape zoning project for Scotland (see associated post), I am aware that the sea always plays a vital role. It is where our extreme weather (gales, storms, flash floods) comes from, it feeds us with fruits de mer, provides us with sea-roads so that we can visit each other, and is our playground (wild swimming, beachcombing, sandcastle building, canoeing, sailing, kayaking, surfing….).
And it also contains great diversity. However, being the sea, this diversity is for the most part out of sight.
In our region we have Dunstafnage near Oban, where they have marine laboratories and do important research delving into this diversity.
Amateurs like me can also play a role as local eyes and ears, as, for instance, a few weeks ago, when a dead cetacean was stranded on our local beach. We were not the first to see it but a friend of my son’s alerted us and we went. A dog walker had already reported it as a baby dolphin, prompting the Scottish Stranding scientists to drive a long way (from Dundee I think) to take a look at it. I phoned them up and what they told me was fascinating.
The animal (actually an adult male porpoise) had been attacked by a pod of male bottlenose dolphins, repeatedly hit and bitten to the extent that the animal died. They knew this because of the rake marks on its skin which were 14ml apart: the width between a dolphin’s teeth.
I told this to friends and family and they were shocked by this forensic analysis. Could dolphins be so cruel? ….and then they realised they were being anthropomorphic about it. Nobody knows for sure why they do this, but the behaviour has actually been observed in the Moray Firth where a pod was seen tossing a porpoise in the air like a ball, literally kicking it about as they attacked it.
The stranding expert thought the most likely explanation was that it had been mistaken for a younger dolphin trying to “muscle in” on the pod’s territory. It has been observed that males will have a go at other dolphins – hence this theory.
On reflection, I think of this incident as a sign that we have a pretty healthy sea out there, with enough fish to support a pod of dolphins and porpoises.
A few days before my neighbour was looking out to sea and noticed a group of dolphins swimming in the clear still water only a couple of hundred metres offshore. They could have been the same ones that attacked the unlucky porpoise.