You’d be forgiven for thinking you have to go to Florida to see dolphins, or at least venture out in a boat with a seafarer.
But you can stand on almost any of the beaches here in Moray and witness the beautiful mammals swimming, leaping and feeding just feet from the shore.
It’s an amazing sight, and although some places are better than others, witnessing the dolphins in the Moray Firth is an experience you’ll never forget.
And they’re not visiting… the Moray Firth is the permanent home to the most northern colony of bottle-nose dolphins in the world.
There are about 110 dolphins in the Moray Firth ‘community’ and as you can imagine, they’re a favourite amongst locals and tourists.
The best places to see them vary but there are a few ‘hotspots’ where you are almost certain to see them if you stay long enough.
Here you’ll find the Scottish Dolphin Centre. It’s a haven for wildlife and a great place to see dolphins and whales. Staff at the WDCS record all sightings on a whiteboard, and on any given day you can see just what has been seen, not just dolphins, but any wildlife.
The centre is built around the Tugnet Ice house, which is a visitor attraction in its own right.
The ice house was built to store ice for packing salmon from the Spey fishery before it was sent to market. In its heyday, nets would be stretched across the mouth of the River Spey.
The current structure which is a distinctive three-hump roof covered in grass was still in use up to 1968. It was built in 1830. It replaced a former icehouse which had been damaged by flooding and is the largest surviving ice house in the UK.
The centre itself is ideal for nature lovers, families or anyone just looking for a day out with some education, fun and excitement thrown in.
Walks and tours are conducted by professional guides who will show you the best ways to sight dolphins and whales. Inside the centre, there’s a cafe, shop and education suite.
The raised promontory at Burghead is a superb spotting place. Here you can see quite far out into the firth, and while you won’t get close-ups, just seeing them breach out of the water is a rewarding sight.
One of the best ways to see dolphins, and indeed whales and other marine wildlife is from a boat.
These can be arranged from through North 58º Sea Adventures in Findhorn and Lossiemouth, or Phoenix Sea Adventures in Nairn. All tours are operated by the same company, and they have a vast experience of taking people out on wildlife tours.
There’s also plenty of other wildlife to be seen including birds and porpoise. These boats travel along the coastline where there is no human habitation and very little disturbance.
Why are the dolphins here?
Dolphins aren’t just confined to warmer climates such as Florida or the Caribbean.
These creatures can live in the oceans anywhere in the world, with the exception of the Arctic and Antarctic. We are lucky to have a resident collection of bottle-nose dolphins in the Moray Firth and these are the farthest north in the UK. We are also very lucky to have them so easily visible from the shore.
The Moray coastline is a superb viewing platform, but perhaps the best place other than a boat is from Chanonry Point across the firth near Rosemarkie. Here the land spits out from the north and south creating a watery chicane between the sandy beach and Fort George on the south shore, another good spot to see due to its elevation.
At Chanonry Point, seasoned spotters gather daily in what has become called ‘the village’ and it is frequented by photographers with long lenses getting close-ups of the dolphins when they can.
However, the truth is, you don’t always need a telephoto, they are literally metres from the shore here. And even if you don’t have a camera at all, the sighting of dolphins in the north of Scotland must go down as one of the best memories to take home with you.