Finding Dolphins in Scotland
People are often surprised to find native wild bottlenose dolphins around the coast of Scotland. Since I put my gallery of dolphin photographs on this site for people to freely view, I keep getting emails asking, "Where can I find the dolphins?". I hope this page answers some of the questions. This page covers the Moray Firth area, I am aware that dolphins have been sighted in other parts of Scotland, but the Moray Firth is a good place to start. The Moray Firth is the water which extends to the North East of Inverness. The map below shows the location of Inverness.
Two of the best locations in the area for dolphin sightings from land are Chanonry Point and the South Sutor of Cromarty. Both are within an hour drive of Inverness, for travel information and finding a place to stay please see the Visit Scotland Website. You may want to choose a bed and breakfast as you could find yourself spending long hours at the view points.
The point which provides the best land location for photographs is Chanonry Point (near Fortrose). Take the road which runs down to the lighthouse (watch out for golf balls, the road runs through the middle of a golf course). At the end of the road is a car park and picnic area. If you have come by car, you need to get out and walk round to the front of the lighthouse.
Walk round to Chanonry Point from the car park, a path runs to the beach or if the tide is out you can walk along the pebble beach (take care with the tides). The best viewing location is just above and to the left of the letter 'C' of Chanonry Point label on the map below. On no account enter the water, and take great care the currents are very strong. The water gets very deep, very quickly, so much so the dolphins can be less than 6m away. With the lighthouse behind you, face Fort George and start looking for dolphins.
The Sutors of Cromarty provide another good viewing location, the view points along the path which runs along the South Sutor provides a pleasant walk and chance to watch the dolphins in the waters below. The water is 50 to 100m away so limits photography. Best to take binoculars. A circular walk from Cromarty includes the view points.
You can drive to the view point, but the lane to the car park is narrow. The circular walk from Cromarty includes the view points.
There are many good books on dolphin and whale watching a good general guide is the DK Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises by Mark Carwardine (ISDN 0-7894-8990-2)
While in Cromarty you should call into Dolphin Ecosse, they run a very professional boat trip.
Camera and Lenses: Film ISO400 or faster, Digital ISO400 or better. I use a 70-200 F2.8 lens. A monopod is better than a tripod as you find yourself quickly needed to move round the view points. The dolphins move fast, you've a large area of water, if you get two good photographs from an entire 36 frame film well done! With digital, bring a days worth of batteries, and enough memory for 200 to 300 frames. Don't waste time deleting photographs at the viewpoint because no sooner do you turn your back the dolphins appear. A polarising filter will take the glare from the water.
Clothing: Its Scotland, even in summer the weather can change, bring layers and waterproofs. Gloves to! Polarising sun glasses will take the glare off the water and greatly increase your chances of seeing dolphins further out. Bring a good sun cream, the days in Scotland are long in summer, and you could find yourself in the sun for hours watching.
Food: Take a days worth of food and water. Local shops and pubs in both Fortrose and Cromarty. Though neither view points has a toliet!
When to Visit: While sightings are recorded year round, the rough seas of winter prevent any serious watching. Easter to later September. My photographs are taken in May and late August. It is often possible to go days without seeing dolphins, and then have days of nothing but dolphins.
What time of Day: Anytime, these are wild animals, and don't run to time. However large ships coming or going on a high tide often pick up dolphins riding the waves in front of them. If in doubt ask people at the view point if dolphins have been seen recently. Dolphins dive for up to 4 to 5mins, its quite easy to miss them.
Local Dolphin Research: Visit the University of Aberdeen Lighthouse field station website.
Log your Sightings: Visit the WDCS website and record your sightings.
Places to Visit: Moray Firth Wildlife Centre
images and photographs (other than maps) are copyright Peter Asprey /
CowPhotos.com. (other than maps).