Whales and Dolphins in Scotland

A total of 28 different species of whales and dolphins have already been seen on the British coast. Some of these have only been sighted a few times, while others can be observed more regularly.

Whales and Dolphins in Scotland

There are 90 species of whales around the world - from the blue whale, the largest whale in the world, to the narwhal, the unicorn of the seas, to the vaquita, the smallest whale in the world. Whales are divided into two different subgroups of the whale family: Baleen whales and toothed whales. There are 14 recognised species of baleen whales; toothed whales include the sperm whale, beaked whales, dolphins, porpoises and beluga and narwhals.

A total of 28 different species of whales and dolphins have been seen on the UK coast. Some of these have only been sighted a few times, while others can be seen more regularly. The bottlenose dolphin and harbour porpoise are the most frequently sighted species.

With around 200 resident bottlenose dolphins, the school - as a group of whales is called - in the Moray Firth, north-east Scotland, is the largest in the UK. It is also the most northerly population in the world and because of this, robust, hardy and they can grow up to 4m long. Although the Moray Firth is considered the "core" habitat of bottlenose dolphins, this does not mean that they only stay there. They can be seen all along the coast of Scotland - from land and, of course, from a boat. Dolphins and porpoises are known to swim in front of ships and ride the wake created by recreational boats, for example. Scientists think: "They might just be having fun. They are very intelligent animals, so why not just have fun and hang out?"

Compared to porpoises, harbour porpoises avoid boats. They are small and shy, but with luck can also be seen on Scotland's coasts as they often stay in shallow waters close to shore. If you spot one, listen out for the loud "chuff" sound porpoises make when they come to the surface to breathe!

Orcas - the largest species of dolphin - can also be spotted from Scotland's shores. Around Shetland and Orkney, the black and white 'killer whales' are regularly spotted, but you can also get lucky and see orcas in the north-west of Scotland - especially in late spring. A small school of orcas is known to exist on the west coast of Scotland, but this is threatened with extinction.

Fin whales - the second largest whale species in the world - are also found on the west coast and especially around the Isle of Lewis. - are found. At different times of the year they are seen in deeper waters stretching from Scotland to the western part of the English Channel. Sometimes we also get unexpected visits from species that are very rarely seen in Scottish waters, such as the world's third largest whale, the sei whale.

Minke whales are the most common baleen whale species found on the UK coast, especially in the summer months off the west coast of Scotland and in the North Sea. Other species such as sperm whales, white-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, pilot whales and humpback whales are also seen from time to time. Beaked whales, including the northern bottlenose whale, are also seen less frequently.