Naturalists have set up a whale-watching base on the Firth of Forth to “improve the science” in the wake of a surge of humpback whale sightings in the waters.
The Forth Marine Mammal Project will keep a record of marine life in the firth. The project’s first base will be at Kinghorn, Fife, where enthusiasts flocked earlier this year for a sight of visiting humpbacks.
A whale-watching “kit” of binoculars and recording equipment, funded by an anonymous donor, will be installed on paths overlooking Kinghorn Beach and the project’s first 15 volunteers have already completed a training session.
The group behind the community scheme, Shorewatch, plans to establish further watching stations at Pittenweem, also in Fife, and at Granton, Edinburgh, and North Berwick on the southern side of the firth.
As well as the four humpback whales recorded in January and February, minke whales are seen regularly, and in the past there have been sperm whales and orcas.
Project co-leader Sam Tedcastle said: “We don’t want to see sperm whales – if they come to the Forth it means there is something wrong.
“The humpbacks, we think, are coming here to feed which we think is a good sign, although it could indicate there is a problem with their food source elsewhere.
“The more we find out the more questions arise and these are the questions we want to answer.”
The Forth Marine Mammal Project boasts a diverse membership of amateur enthusiasts, including scientists, fishermen and photographers.
The Forth Shorewatch sites will add to 18 already in Scotland around the Moray Firth, west and north coast, the Outer Hebrides and Angus.
Ms Tedcastle added: “The number of sightings we are getting on our Facebook page has demonstrated that there is a lot more marine life in the Forth than people thought.
“People have known for a long time that there are dolphins and that whales come, but we hadn’t realised how frequently. I don’t think there is much science being done in the Forth, and we wanted to do something more formal as well as having our page.
“Hopefully we will record sightings over a few years and be able to establish patterns in the whale and dolphin populations.”
The Forth Marine Mammal Project has already helped reveal that one of the humpbacks that has already visited the Firth of Forth twice in two years is now in Iceland.
Lyndsay McNeill, a member of the project, spent months poring over hundreds of photographs and videos to find the humpback, nicknamed “Sonny”, which returned to the estuary in January a year after first being sighted there.