Protecting the dolphins of the Moray Firth

The Moray Firth is a busy area and the dolphins and whales here face a broad range of threats: activities such as oil and gas exploration and production, large and numerous marina developments, chemical pollution, from fishing nets and gear, and from large offshore wind farms proposed in the coming years. All of these activities individually and collectively are increasingly putting pressure on the dolphins and their environment. WDC operates from the its Scottish Dolphin Centre in the Moray Firth, and from Edinburgh, campaigning to protect the bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises, minke whales and other species that rely on this remarkable region of the UK.

WDC has been engaged in a long-term programme to protect the bottlenose dolphins that live in Scotland’s Moray Firth.

This remarkable group of dolphins face a broad range of threats, including activities such as oil and gas exploration and production, large marina development, chemical pollution, fisheries interactions and today even more threats are increasingly putting pressure on the dolphins and their environment.

Yet, in spite of evidence that the population is under multiple threats not enough is being done to protect this unique, vulnerable and important group of animals.

Bottlenose dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins are one of the best known and most loved of all dolphin species. A small population of around 192 of these very special animals lives in the Moray Firth. But for how much longer? Such a small, isolated population is extremely vulnerable. These highly sentient animals, which make up the only surviving population of its kind in the North Sea, need protection from the many threats they face.

In recognition of their special status and vulnerability, in 2005 part of the Moray Firth was designated a bottlenose dolphin Special Area of Conservation (SAC), one of only two such protected areas in the UK.

Yet the SAC only covers a percentage of the area the dolphins make their home, and whilst some of the dolphins seem to spend their entire lives within the SAC, others range along the coast of the Moray Firth to Aberdeen, Tay, the Firth of Forth and possibly beyond!

We must ensure the dolphins have a future, both by protecting the SAC and the dolphins’ wider habitat, and by carefully monitoring and regulating activity that threatens these amazing animals. We can only protect the dolphins by effectively protecting their habitat! 

You can help support this vital work by adopting a Moray Firth dolphin.

What about the other wildlife of the Moray Firth?

The Moray Firth contains a rich diversity of marine life all year round, including European Protected Species such as harbour porpoises and otters. It is also important habitat for a number of important seabirds, harbour and grey seals and a host of seasonal visitors including vulnerable basking sharks, humpback and fin whales, as well as white-beaked and Atlantic white-sided dolphins.

What is WDC doing?

Our vision is that the whales and dolphins of the Moray Firth, including the bottlenose dolphins, will survive and in due course thrive in a clean and safe environment.

Studying bottlenose dolphins is not easy as so much of their life goes unobserved, so their activities and requirements are not immediately evident. But does out of sight have to mean out of mind? Research helps us put the dolphins on the map and in people’s minds.

We also campaign for better protection, lobby decision-makers, support and conduct research, run education initiatives and bring the world of whales and dolphins alive to thousands through our Visitor Centres.

Here’s a snapshot of our work:

  • We funded the University of Aberdeen to study the Moray Firth dolphins. Critical research which led to the designation of the dolphins’ Special Area of Conservation.
  • We conduct our own surveys to find out about the habitat requirements of all the whale and dolphin species that make the Moray Firth their home.
  • We are a member of the Dolphin Space Programme Steering Group, which works with boat operators in the Moray Firth to ensure guidelines are in place to protect the dolphins.
  • We research the potential impacts of all threats, provide expert advice to governments, industries, and work hard to effect real change for the dolphins and whales.
  • We conduct land-based dolphin and whale watching and enable visitors to see and hear the dolphins for themselves.
  • We operate a schools activity programme in Scotland designed to enthuse and educate children about whales and dolphins.
  • We run exhibitions and events at our Visitor Centres to engage people in the world of whales and dolphins.