Scottish Field

A FLIPPIN' GOOD TIME

With the opportunit­y to spot a whole host of cool cetaceans, the Scottish Dolphin Centre in Moray is welcoming visitors by the thousands, discovers Morag Bootland

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Morag Bootland visits the Scottish Dolphin Centre in Moray to find out about these much-loved creatures

Their intelligen­ce, personalit­y and perhaps even their apparent ability to ‘smile’ has long made bottlenose dolphins endearing and fascinatin­g to human beings. There are many places around the world that offer us the opportunit­y to see these marine mammals from the sea in their natural habitat, but very few where you can keep your feet on terra firma and still witness the spectacle of dolphins breaching, feeding and hunting.

In the north east of Scotland, on the Moray Firth, where the mighty River Spey meets the North Sea is one of the best land-based dolphin spotting areas in the world. And perhaps unsurprisi­ngly this is home to the Scottish Dolphin Centre. Housed in a 250-year-old former salmon fishing station, the centre welcomes close to 100,000 visitors every year, making it one of the biggest tourist attraction­s in Moray. With a surge in the popularity of wildlife tourism, the centre has never been more popular and sees travellers from across Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA take tours, along with locals who visit regularly.

‘Our ultimate aim is to light the spark of conservati­on,’ says Lisa Farley the Scottish Dolphin Centre Officer. ‘Everything we do is focused on public engagement, interpreta­tion and education; our aim is to amaze our visitors with the world of whales and dolphins and how we work to protect them. We want to inspire them so that they will be encouraged to support the charity either through our adoption and membership schemes, or by doing a beach clean or simply by committing to reducing their plastic waste.

Enabling visitors to watch the east coast population of bottlenose dolphins from land is certainly one way to encourage them to think more about conservati­on. But free tours of the centre, including audio visual experience­s of life above and below the water of the Moray Firth, cameras trained out across the bay and the opportunit­y to learn about the history of fishing and the heritage of the Spey ensure that the centre is a great day out that won’t break the bank.

There are many other species that can be seen around the north coast of Scotland, including white beaked common dolphins, short beaked common dolphins and Risso’s dolphins, as well as harbour porpoises, pilot whales, minke whales, humpback whales, killer whales and basking sharks. ‘In fact, out of the 80 species of cetacean, you can see 20 of them right here in the north of Scotland,’ says Lisa. ‘The area is really rich.’

The east coast population has been studied by the Aberdeen Lighthouse Field Research Team for the past 30 years. The animals aren’t tagged but instead can be identified by distinct markings on their dorsal fins. ‘Dolphins are very social creatures with a very complex culture,’ says Lisa. ‘They tend to mark each other when they have little scraps or just by rubbing up against one another. Their dorsal fins can end up looking very different if they’ve sustained an injury. There’s one bottlenose dolphin named jigsaw, because her fin looks like a jigsaw.’

Some of the dolphins who live off the north coast have been seen this summer as far afield as the Kerry coast and even in Dutch waters. But in Spey Bay, especially in the summer months, bottlenose dolphins are spotted pretty much on a daily basis and that makes it a great place for Whale and Dolphin Conservati­on, who run the centre, to run Shorewatch, a citizen science programme that sees around 500 watchers providing data to help the centre better understand the habits of dolphins and whales that have been sighted. ‘The data is used to lobby government or energy companies, or anyone else who might want to develop around the north of Scotland,’ says Lisa.

The centre is open from mid-February until mid-December. See dolphincen­tre. whales.org

 ??  ?? Above: Lisa Farley wants to encourage people to think more about conservati­on.
Above: Lisa Farley wants to encourage people to think more about conservati­on.
 ??  ?? Clockwise from top: Adults breaching; the centre is run by Whale and Dolphin Conservati­on; all smiles for the camera; land watchers get the perfect shot; the centre is housed in a 250-year-old salmon fishing station.
Clockwise from top: Adults breaching; the centre is run by Whale and Dolphin Conservati­on; all smiles for the camera; land watchers get the perfect shot; the centre is housed in a 250-year-old salmon fishing station.

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