How To View Scotlands Cetaceans Responsibly

How to watch dolphins and whales responsibly

Whale and dolphin watching can be an amazing and exhilerating experience – but getting too close can cause them problems. Good advice, specifically for Scotland but also generally via Wildlife

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Police Scotland are advising wildlife enthusiasts and boat operators to watch how close they get to dolphins, whales and porpoises if they are planning a cetacean-viewing trip this summer.

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are protected under the law from intentional or reckless disturbance, harassment, killing and injury.

Dolphins are sociable, naturally inquisitive animals and will often approach boats. With large crafts which are moving on a steady heading, this doesn’t usually pose any threat as the dolphins can choose to swim away from any disturbance or danger.

In fact, dolphins are often seen by ferry passengers apparently playing by riding the bow wave.

But problems can happen with smaller, high-speed craft such as power boats and jet skis, which change direction quickly and frequently.

Disturbance may be a particular problem when it takes place in areas that are important for the animals.

Cetaceans may not be able to avoid these craft and may be injured by direct or propeller impacts.

The noise and changing direction can disorientate cetaceans, while reckless activity, such as driving through a school of dolphins, can separate adults from their young.

Andy Turner, SNH’s wildlife crime officer, said: “If your boat is approached by dolphins while you’re operating a power boat or jet ski, you should reduce your speed and cruise on a steady heading away from the dolphins.

“This gives the dolphins the chance to escape or approach.

“The Marine Code is full of useful information on how to act responsibly around our marine wildlife – much in the same way as the Outdoor Access Code does for land-based wildlife.”I’d encourage all operators of marine craft to familiarise themselves with the code.”

Visit for more information on the best way to watch marine wildlife.

Sergeant Andy Mavin, Police Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Crime Coordinator, said: “Members of the public should always exercise caution when near to cetaceans.

“Public curiosity can sometimes end up with unintended consequences and as they are protected by specific legislation Police Scotland will investigate any potential criminality it is made aware of.”

There are also specific codes of conduct in place around the coast to protect marine life in sensitive or important areas. For example, the Dolphin Space Programme (DSP) accreditation scheme in the Moray Firth.

Ben Leyshon, SNH’s operations officer for the inner Moray Firth Team, said: “The DSP encourages people to ‘watch how they watch’ and either view dolphins from the many excellent shore-based locations or use one of operators accredited under the scheme.

“These operators commit to carry out trips of high quality and low environmental impact. You can find an up-to-date list of the accredited operators on the DSP website at”

Read our blog Swimming with Dolphins the RIGHT way for more tips and advice