Bottlenose dolphin

The Scottish bottlenose dolphins are considerably larger than their cousins living in the warmer waters off Florida, USA. These dolphins can be between 3 and 4 metres in length and are normally to be seen in pods (groups) of up to ten animals. Pods can form to make much larger groups at times.

Bottlenose dolphins are grey in colouring, with a pale, almost white underside, however the colours of individuals vary. The upper body from dark grey to grey brown and the underside from light grey to white. The lower jaw is distinctive as it extends out further than the upper jaw.

This active and playful cetacean can be seen jumping up out of the water (breaching) and swimming at up to 20mph when hunting. They eat fish, such as atlantic salmon and have been known to kill harbour porpoise, but not for food.

They are resident in Scotland throughout the year but are more visible in calmer sea conditions in the spring and summer. Dolphins can be more visible at low tide inshore. Dolphins need to breathe air and they can be seen at the surface briefly as they take a breath when travelling along in a pod offshore.
Seen around the coasts of Scotland they are sometimes visible from good shoreline vantage points. Watch the seascape with the naked eye at first, then once a pod is spotted, use binoculars to see activity more closely. The Moray Firth is one of the best places to see bottlenose dolphins in the UK, with the beach below the lighthouse at Chanonry Point on the north shore of the Moray Firth being particularly notable. Other good spots include off the coast of Aberdeen, the West Coast around Mull, Firth of Lorn, Canna and Skye and increasingly in the Firth of Forth.
Bottlenose dolphins are vulnerable to disturbance. If you are on the water in the vicinity of dolphins, let the dolphins choose whether they want to associate with the boat. Follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code at all times. If you are choosing a dolphin-watching operators, look for the Wild Scotland or WISE logos which indicate that the operators know how to handle the boat around marine mammals. Never swim with dolphins.
Common dolphin

Common dolphin

Delphinus delphis

Common dolphins are seen every year off the West Coast of Scotland.  They are seen in larger groups than bottlenose dolphins and these superpods can contain over a hundred of individual dolphins. Common dolphins are smaller that bottlenose dolphins and c...

Harbour porpoise

Harbour porpoise

Phocoena phocoena

The harbour porpoise is the smallest species of cetacean found in Scottish waters, being less than two metres long. It weighs about 45 kilos and is usually seen in small groups or schools. A porpoise breathes between 4 and 5 times every minute. As it surf...

Minke whale

Minke whale

Balaenoptera acutorostrata

This is the smallest of the baleen family of whales to be found in Scottish waters, being between 8.5 and 9 metres long. This whale weighs about 10 tonnes and is usually seen singly or as a cow with her calf. When the cow gives birth to a single calf, ...

Basking shark

Basking shark

Cetorhinus maximus

The dorsal fin may be visible as this plankton-eating shark is seen filter feeding near the surface. Its open mouth is about 2 metres wide. In calm conditions it may be seen close to the shore although is generally in deeper waters. The second largest ...