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Dolphin watching at Chanonry Point, Scotland

Watch out for whales and dolphins when you are near the coast

We all enjoy seeing whales and dolphins when we’re out on the water - it can be an unforgettable experience. But did you know that it is illegal to disturb them?

We’ve got some tips to help you make sure your time on the water is enjoyable and doesn’t harm the amazing creatures who live there.

Why shouldn’t you get too close to whales or dolphins?

Our seas are getting busier. We use the waters around the UK commercially and for fun. But all this human activity can cause harm to whales and dolphins.

You might think it’s just noisy boats and jet skis that are a problem, but kayakers and paddle-boarders can disturb dolphins too.

Whales, dolphins and porpoises need to feed, rest, socialise and reproduce to stay healthy and to keep their populations strong.  If you get too close to these activities and disrupt their natural behaviour, you might unwittingly cause changes to an individual's breathing, hamper their ability to feed or stop them getting the rest that they need. Mothers with calves are particularly vulnerable.

Human disturbance can even drive whales and dolphins away from the places that are important to them. This disturbance is made worse by repetition and it is increasing as more people head out onto the water.

Have a great encounter – enjoyable for both you and the marine wildlife. Best behaviour includes:

  • Watch from shore – you can watch for as long as you like without causing any distress to wildlife at sea
  • If dolphins or whales approach your craft, maintain slow speed and steady course. Let them control the encounter
  • Be calm and quiet when you’re close to whales and dolphins
  • If you are joining a boat trip, ask if the boat operator is accredited with WiSe.
  • If you operate a marine vessel, consider attending a WiSe training course (
  • Understand how to recognise, record and report disturbance – even by an accredited operator (details listed below)
  • Share our video (below), talk about disturbance with your friends and family to raise awareness

We all need our personal space… so do whales and dolphins.  It’s #RudeToIntrude.

We all need our personal space – so do whale and dolphins. 

  • Keep your distance. Avoid getting too close, especially if calves are present.
  • Approach carefully from behind and to the side, make sure you are aware of best practice.
  • Three is a crowd – there should never be more than two boats within the 300 metre ‘caution zone’
  • Don’t overstay your welcome – 15 minutes is enough.
  • Avoid repeated disturbance; consider staying away if the wildlife has already spent a prolonged period with vessels nearby.

It’s #RudeToIntrude.  To avoid disturbing wildlife, DO NOT:

  • Make sudden changes to speed and direction
  • Approach from directly in front or behind
  • Drive between or scatter groups, especially mothers and calves
  • Chase or repeatedly approach individuals
  • Box them in – take care not to trap individuals between your vessel and other vessels or the shore
  • Swim with them or try to touch or feed them.

Following this advice will help you to remain within the law and reduce the risk of you disturbing whales and dolphins.

Two leaping dolphins

Disturbance of whales and dolphins is an offence, whether it is intentional or not.  Reporting reckless or intentional disturbance will help protect whales and dolphins, enabling everyone to enjoy our waters.

If you see someone disturbing dolphins, porpoises or whales, do not approach them yourself.  Do report them to the police by calling 101.

  • Tell the operator that you are reporting a wildlife crime and ask for an incident number to ensure that reports can be tracked.
  • Report the incident, letting them know:
    • the date, time and location of the disturbance
    • the behaviour of any vessels and of the whales and dolphins before, during and after the event
    • if possible, the species involved
    • the duration of the interaction
    • any identifying features of the people or vessel involved, such as the boat name and the clothes worn.
  • If possible, take photographic or video evidence of the disturbance. Photos and video of behaviour before and after the disturbance or from different angles can also be very helpful!

Learn how to recognise and report disturbance by watching this video.  Disturbance is illegal and reporting it to the police on 101 will help them to raise awareness and, where necessary, take action to protect whales and dolphins.


WiSe Scheme – The UK national training scheme for minimising disturbance to marine wildlife

Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code

National Wildlife Crime Unit

PAW - Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime

Wildlife and Countryside Link Annual Wildlife Crime report 2021

Shorewatch dolphin disturbance advice

WDC’s disturbance campaign is generously supported by The RS Macdonald Charitable Trust.

RS Macdonald Charitable Trust

Help protect whales and dolphins and their homes

By adopting a whale or dolphin, by making a donation, or by fundraising for WDC, you can help us save these amazing creatures.

Orca - Rob Lott


Adopt a whale and follow the lives of these amazing creatures.

Bottlenose dolphins leaping


Your support helps us take action to protect their homes.

Humpback whale spyhop


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