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Dolphin and whale watching in the Scotland


20 years ago there was virtually no whale watching in Scotland, but as wildlife tourism became more popular at the same time as the Scottish fishing industry declined, possibly coupled with an increased incidence of marine mammals within UK waters, demand increased as did the opportunity for 'retired' fishermen. There are now more than 40 operators offering whale and dolphin watching in Scotland.

Minke whales are most commonly sighted, but Humpback, Fin, Killer, (Orca are increasingly seen off Shetland) Pilot and Sperm whales can all be seen from time to time, and occasionally Northern Bottlenose and Sei whales are spotted too.

Top 5 sites for whale and dolphin watching in the Scotland

  • 1. Shetland Islands. Regular Minke sightings and occasional Orca, Sperm, Humpback and Fin whales, from boats and can be seen from the shore too..
  • 2. Orkney Islands. Minke, Humpback and Orcas, and even a possible Beluga sighting in 2005!
  • 3. Hebrides. Regular Minkes, with Humpbacks and Orcas thrown in occasionally.
  • 4. Moray Firth. A resident population of over 100 Bottlenose dolphins as well as common and grey seals, and it is relatively easy to see them from the shore. Boat trips are available too.
  • 5. Kyle of Lochalsh. Not necessarily for the sightings, though you they are seen, but more for the style of sighting as there is a unique vessel based here that is best described as a floating submarine, or a boat with a glass hull. Either way as the boat cruises you get underwater views of all the local marine life.


 Minke whale. © Sea Watch Foundation.





Minke whale off Scotland. © Sea Watch.

Notable whale, dolphin and marine sightings around the UK and Irish coasts in 2006.

  • August 2006. Humpback seen in the Forth estuary.
  • July 2006. 2 Minke whales seed off the Dorset coast.
  • July 2006. Orca seen much more regularly than normal of Shetlands.
  • July 2006. Minke whales seen in unusual numbers of West Cork, Ireland, as well as sunfish and jelly fish.
  • July 2006. Minke whales seen in unusual numbers off Aberdeen.
  • July 2006. Unusual dolphin sightings off Nth East Scotland, including Rissos, white beaked and common.
  • July 2006. Killer whales seen off Northern Ireland.
  • July 2006. First record of a Fin whale off North Berwick Coast.
  • June/July 2006. Basking sharks seen by the basket load off Cornwall.
  • June 2006. Humpbacks seen off Wales.
  • June 2006. Humpback freed from nets off Isle of Skye.
  • June 2006. Orca seen off Shetland Islands (Filmed for Springwatch with Simon King).
  • June 2006. 12 Bottlenose dolphins seen in several places off Cornwall.
  • June 2006. Minke whale seen of Manacle, Cornwall.
  • June 2006. Possible Piliot whale sighting off Portloe, Cornwall.
  • May 2006. 2 Fin wales seen in the Inner Hebrides.
  • There have been dozens of reports of baskings sharks from Cornwall and the West Coast of Ireland.








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British Columbia Whale Watching guidelines.
  • Approach whales from the side, not from the front or the rear.
  • Approach no closer than 100 metres and shift your motor into neutral or idle.
  • Keep noise levels down - no horns, whistles or racing of motors.
  • Start your motor only after the whales are more than 100 metres from your vessel.
  • Leave the area slowly, gradually accelerating when you are more than 300 metres from the whales.
  • Approach and depart slowly, avoiding sudden changes in speed or direction. Do not "leapfrog."
  • Avoid disturbing groups of resting whales.
  • Maintain low speeds and constant direction if travelling parallel to whales.
  • When whales are travelling close to shore, avoid crowding them near the shore or coming between the whales and the shore.
  • Limit the time spent with any group of whales to less than 30 minutes at a time when within 100 to 200 metres of whales.
  • If there is more than one vessel at the same observation site, be sure to avoid any boat position that would result in encircling the whales.
  • Minimize the time spent and the number of vessels with any one group of whales.
  • Limit time, as above, and then move out to allow other vessels access to good viewing positions.
  • Coordinate activities by maintaining contact with other vessels, and ensure that all operators are aware of the whale watching guidelines.
Notable marine sightings around the UK and Ireland, 2007.
  • 20th January. 6 Bottle Nose dolphins off Stonehaven. (Courtesy of Ian Sim/Seawatch.)
  • November. Humpback feeding off Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, possibly in the area for 2 weeks. Interacting with Bottle Nose Dolphins. (Courtesy of Ian Sim/Seawatch.)
  • September. Minke whale found dead on Devon beach.
  • August. 2-3 Minke whales off St Abbs Head/Coldingham Bay in Berwickshire.
  • August. Minke whale in Fraserburgh Harbour.
  • July. Northern Bottlenose whale strands in River Orwell, Ipswich.
  • June. Humpback seen off North Devon.
  • June. 10 Minke whales sighted off the Isle of Man.
  • May. Several Minke sightings off Isle of Man, plus a Sei whale.
  • May. Repeated sightings of Orcas off Orkneys
  • May. Rare sighting of Bottlenose dolphins in the Channel, click here for details.
  • April. Several Orca sightings off Northern Ireland
  • April. Fin whale in the Moray Firth.
  • April. Orca seen off Isle of Man.
  • March. 2 Humpbacks seen off Anglesey/Isle of Mann.
  • March. 3 Killer whales seen off Shetland.
  • March. Sperm whale strands on Orkney.
  • March. 6 Killer whales seen off Orkney.
  • March. A pod of 15 Sperm whales seen by fishermen off Caithness.
  • January. A pod of nine killer whales seen in the Firth of Forth.
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