Update (July 22, 2019): 'Spirtle', a dolphin that survived being badly sunburned in a stranding back in 2016, surprised scientists recently when she turned up off the south west coast of Ireland. Spirtle's injuries make her one of the most recognisable dolphins in Scotland's east coast population. Her recent journey into Tralee and Brandon Bay in North Kerry is unusual as it marks the first recorded sighting of one of these dolphins in 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," marine researcher Dr Barbara Cheney explained to the BBC.

Spirtle is the first dolphin in her group to have ventured this far from her typical territory. Researchers are now hoping to identify other individuals she was seen with in order to determine if this movement into Ireland represents a shift in behaviour. (Scroll down to read Spirtle's full story.)



When we first met "Spirtle" back in June, she had just been rescued after stranding on a beach in the Scottish Highlands. The four-year-old bottlenose dolphin was badly sunburned during the ordeal, but new photos show she's healing well!

Charlie Philips, a Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) field officer, recently spotted Spirtle from the shores of the Cromarty and Moray firths, and he was able to snap some photos, reports the BBC. Although the dolphin still has signs of the injuries on her back, her behaviour appears very normal – and she's even been keeping an eye on her sister's calf.

"The images taken this week ... show a big improvement in her skin condition," said the WDC in an update.

Spirtle babysitting her sister Honey's calf in the Cromarty Firth. Image: Charlie Phillips/WDC 

The stranded dolphin was discovered by photographer Lorraine Culloch a few months ago. When her car's GPS system took her to the wrong location, Culloch ended up on the Nigg peninsula (a dolphin and porpoise hotspot), where she came across Spirtle on the shore. After hours of work, a rescue team eventually managed to refloat the young animal, doing their best to keep its skin wet and protected from the sun. But after 24 hours of UV exposure, the skin was in pretty bad shape, and scientists were initially uncertain if the dolphin would survive.

"The damage to her skin is severe. However, various groups will be looking out for her in the coming weeks and months, as she hopefully continues to heal," said the dolphin conservation group Marine Connection in an update shortly after the rescue.

Spirtle belongs to a well-known Scottish population of around 130 bottlenose dolphins. Individual animals within the group are known to local researchers because distinctive markings on their dorsal fins allow them to be identified and tracked. Back in August, Phillips posted photos of another Spirtle sighting at Moray Firth.



Top header image: J. Maughn, Flickr