How to see the Moray Firth dolphins
Hannah Bird, Wildlife Centre Manager for The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), writes about the Moray Firth dolphins.
It is widely believed that you have to travel to far and tropical shores to see whales and dolphins in the wild. Widely believed, but not true. In fact, there is a little bit of pure wilderness from which you can see acrobatic bottlenose dolphins breaching by rugged steep cliffs, and it is right here in Scotland.
World's largest Bottlenose dolphins
And, as I discovered guiding an Out of the Blue dolphin-watching trip to the Moray Firth, it is a great pleasure to share this wildlife gem with others. The four-day trip allowed our small group of 11 excited dolphin spotters to experience the beauty of the Scottish coast from both on and off the waters of the Moray Firth - home to the largest bottlenose dolphins in the world.
Growing up to four metres in length, these great Scottish dolphins proved to be far more worthy of a trip to the North of Scotland than the seldom (if ever) spotted, Loch Ness Monster.
The trip is based in the charming village of Cromarty, an eighteenth century fishing port right on the tip of the Black Isle, near Inverness. The village provides both stunning cliff-top walks along the ‘Sutors' (named after the great mythical giants that used to protect the Firth), and quaint cobbled streets with cosy tearooms and Scottish arts and crafts. A perfect place to relax - although not for long, as we soon set out on our first exhilarating boat trip.
Travelling in the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), low on the water, really allows you to experience the sea. The great splash as we ducked up and down the waves of the Moray Firth was a thrill in itself - however, as soon as our eagle-eyed skipper, Sarah, shut off the engine, a bated-breath quiet descended upon the group.
Prices, and how to book
- Prices from £450 per adult (£350 for children under 14) for 4 days from Inverness. Price includes all transfers and boat trips, all meals and three nights basic accommodation with shared bathroom facilities at The Old Brewery.
- Departures on May 1st, June 19th, July 31st (Family-themed), August 21st, 25th and 28th.
The last two departures in August will include a visit to the University of Aberdeen's Lighthouse Field Station with an opportunity to meet staff and researchers.
Against the grey rock faces of the cliffs of the Firth, we picked out a group of about six dolphins. Watching them breach and hearing the ‘whushhh' of their blows as they approached the boat had us all enthralled. One of the group was a tiny calf, the youngest I have ever seen, the folds in the skin along its side still very clear from its time curled up inside mum before birth. We were all held in awe as the youngster and mum stayed a little further from the boat, with mum keeping a close eye out for any sign of danger.
Our sightings of dolphins move to some of the best land-based points in the UK; like Chanonry Point and Spey Bay, as well as further boat trips along the coast which allowed us to meet the bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth again and again. We were incredibly lucky. Although this is a resident population you are of course never guaranteed a sighting of any wild animal - but this trip really does offer you the best chance. Meeting the people who have been working with these animals for many years, like our ‘Adopt a Dolphin' Field Officer, Charlie Phillips, really caps the whole trip off. These experts allow us an insight into the world of the dolphins and give us an understanding of their behaviour, which enriches every encounter.
Visits to the WDCS Wildlife Centres at Spey Bay and North Kessock provide an insight into the work of WDCS on the ground. The chance to see our exhibitions and meet scientists involved in the research helps explain the vital photographic identification work that is done to better understand the dolphin population in the Moray Firth. This work is particularly important right now as the pressure from development in the area increases. While the dolphins play the lead, osprey and other seabirds are frequently seen diving for fish around the coast. Minke whales and harbour porpoises are regularly seen in the Firth over the summer months, as well as endearing harbour and grey seals and otters scouting for food around the shoreline. As you can probably tell I'm already sold on the Moray Firth - such a rare and beautiful spot.
Our four-day trip to the Moray Firth provides fantastic dolphin-spotting opportunities and much more. You'll have the chance to learn vital fieldwork skills, including how to identify individual dolphins from unique markings on their dorsal fins; take part in photo identification work; learn to recognise the other whale and dolphin species you spot, and revel in the magnificent scenery and wonderfully diverse wildlife of the Firth.
Now it's your turn.