Ascension Thursday, a Finnish holiday, was unforgettable for Keeri Sjöblom, 13, who lives in Kimitoön, a maritime municipality in southwest Finland.
“I was sitting in the kitchen by the window eating when I saw something black in the water. I right ran to the shore to see,” she tells Yle.
Three bottlenose dolphins were swimming about 500 metres from shore.
When she and her father went out in a boat to get a closer look, one of the dolphins swam near the boat, and she managed to film them.
“They were swimming pretty close to each other. Two of them were small and grey and one was bigger and a bit darker,” she said.
“I heard them blowing air. They didn’t jump, but I saw their tail fins,” Sjöblom said.
The dolphins were first sighted on Sunday in the same area, near the port town of Dalsbruk (Taalintehdas in Finnish).
When whale researcher Olli Loisa, a senior advisor in water and environmental studies at the Turku University of Applied Sciences, heard about the sightings, he rushed to the area.
“I’ve seen plenty of dolphins, porpoises and whales around the world, but this was the first chance to see this species in Finnish waters,” he said. When he went out in a boat, the dolphins came up close, apparently curious.
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“It was an absolutely amazing feeling,” he said. He was able to confirm that there were three bottlenose dolphins, the world’s most common and widespread type of dolphin. They are found nearly everywhere except cold polar waters – and in the nearly-enclosed, brackish Baltic Sea.
The only entrance to the sea is through the Danish Straits, a normally busy shipping route that has been quieter during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Loisa, the last confirmed sighting of the species in the Baltic was nearly 70 years ago.
There is only one species of whale seen regularly in the Baltic Sea, the harbour porpoise, with an estimated population of less than 500.
Other species occasionally stray into these waters. Two years ago a humpback whale was freed from a fishing net near Rauma, western Finland, and an unidentified dolphin was also reported that year, 2018.
In 2006, two white-beaked dolphins got entangled in a fishing net in Nagu, just west of Dalsbruk. In 1986 a beluga whale was seen near the island of Hailuoto, near Oulu.
Stay at least 100m away
Loisa is not surprised that the animals have stayed in the same area for several days at least.
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“These kinds of wanderers may stay for quite a while in a good feeding spot,” he explains.
“This is a Baltic herring spawning area so there is certainly plenty of food for the three of them. They were eating actively when I arrived,” he said.
Loisa says they may stay put for a long time if they are left alone. He hopes that media attention will not bring too many eager sightseers.
Same species as Särkänniemi dolphins
“They’re curious animals, so they may close to people, but no-one should come closer than 100 metres from them and should never approach them from in front or behind,” he says.
“Boats should move around the area at moderate speeds so that the dolphins have a chance to get out of their way. If you’re going fast, there’s a great risk of hitting one.”
“I would also recommend removing all fishing nets from the areas where the dolphins are now swimming,” Loisa says.
Before this week’s sightings, bottlenose dolphins have been seen in Finland at the Särkänniemi amusement park in Tampere. The park had captive bottlenecks that performed in daily shows from 1985 to 2016. During that time, 16 dolphins were born at the aquarium, of which only two survived.
Due to declining ticket sales and growing public opposition, the last four were transferred to Attica Zoological Park in Greece, where one of them died a few months later.