Skip to content
Risso's dolphin

Making Scotland’s seas safer

Creating homes for whales and dolphins

What's the problem?

The seas around Scotland are home to more than 24 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Some live here all year round, others pass through or come here at certain times of the year to feed, breed and raise their young.

These waters are also busy places for human activity. We explore and drill for oil and gas, we fish, we test our military sonar equipment, we produce renewable energy and we enjoy ourselves on boats and jet skis.

All of these activities, both individually and collectively, pose a threat to whales and dolphins. But there's no reason why humans and whales and dolphins cannot coexist in Scottish seas, we just need careful and respectful management.

We've been working for more than a decade to persuade the Scottish government to protect certain areas that are particularly important for groups of whales, dolphins and porpoises - the places where they feed and raise their families.

It’s been eight years since we formally asked the Scottish government to protect the marine areas that Risso’s dolphins, minke whales and other species use to feed and to raise their young around Scotland’s stunning and wild coastline. And finally, here we are! These areas where the dolphins bring their newborn calves, and where whales feast on herring and sandeels, are finally facing the stamp of approval.

The Scottish government has held a public consultation to find out if you support these special areas for Risso’s dolphins, minke whales and other marine species that rely on Scottish waters. If you took part, thank you!


What have we done together?

  1. You may have been involved with our long-running public campaign. We've been raising awareness of the issues and the need for protected areas.
  2. If you added your voice to the Scottish government's public consultation via our site, then you will have played an important part in getting protected areas for Risso's dolphins and minke whales.
  3. Perhaps you also got involved with lobbying the Scottish government through our petitions, letter-writing and postcard campaigns.
  4. Since 2010, we've been carrying out research to learn more about the whales, dolphins and porpoises who live around the Isle of Lewis, off Scotland's west coast. This data informed the government and played a vital part in their decision to create a protected area here.


Sarah Dolman presenting our supporters responses at the Scottish Parliament.
Risso's dolphins

The Story so far

Some campaigns are fought and won over many years

Presenting petition to Richard Lochead MSP

We handed more than 36,000 signatures to the Scottish government in support of protected areas in Scottish seas, and they listened!

Risso's dolphin

Our study of Risso's dolphins in the Hebrides provided the data needed to prove to the Scottish government that the area where these dolphins live needs protection.


Our brilliant supporters got involved with the Scottish government's public consultation, submitting thousands of responses in support of protected areas.


Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham announced that three of the sites we proposed for protection will be created. We will lobby hard to make sure this happens.

In it for the long haul

Campaigns are often fought and won over many years.

To achieve change, we have to commit to the long haul. We’ve been fighting to get protected areas in Scottish seas for almost a decade now and we’ve used all the tools at our disposal, including scientific field research and analysis, political

lobbying, public action, citizen science, and outreach to coastal communities and industries. We’ve achieved a lot over the last ten years and it now looks as though our efforts are delivering something amazing for whales and dolphins.

If you are a WDC supporter, you should feel very proud, because all of this was only possible because of your passion and commitment.

The Scottish government announced plans to create protected areas ...

The Scottish government has designated four more marine protected areas (MPAs), including one for Risso’s dolphins off north east Lewis in the Western Isles and two for minke whales – one off the Moray Firth and the other around the Inner Hebrides.

WDC first proposed these sites back in 2011. It has been a long and complex road to get to this juncture, and we are excited that Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham has announced that her government will take this important step to protect Risso’s dolphins and minke whales in the seas around Scotland.

We gathered evidence through our long-term dolphin field study...

In 2010 we embarked on a long-term field study of Risso’s dolphins off Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and with the Marine (Scotland) Act becoming law that same year, we saw the chance to get legal protection for these special and usually rarely seen dolphins. Science is the foundation for the protection of any species, and if we could provide evidence that certain areas were important to the Risso’s dolphins, and that other areas were important for minke whales, then for the first time we might get those areas protected.

Risso’s dolphins are typically found in deep, offshore waters but we discovered that these Risso’s dolphins seemed to prefer to stay close to the coast – so close that sometimes they were almost touching the rocky shoreline. We were getting to know these fascinating individuals and gaining some eye-opening insights into their lives. We learned that the Risso’s dolphins' favourite food was octopus (which come to coastal waters to lay their eggs and then stay with their young until they hatch) and it was captivating to watch them dive to the sea-bed to feast. We have encountered a number of individual dolphins almost every year – some are here year after year after year, and often with the same pals.

Citizen science played a crucial role...

We could only get out to sea on our small survey vessel in the summer months when there was good weather between the storms. We needed to know if the dolphins were also using the area in the winter and spring. So we set about expanding Shorewatch, our land-based citizen science volunteer programme. Our Shorewatch volunteers could observe from land all year round and their sightings data provided, and continues to provide, the perfect accompaniment to our summer boat surveys.

In 2011, as part of a formal government process, WDC submitted a scientific proposal for our study site to become a Risso’s dolphin MPA, along with additional proposals for two minke whale sites in the Southern Trench of the Moray Firth and the Sea of Hebrides on the west coast. We submitted these proposals with our colleagues at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit (CRRU).

And the public got involved...

In addition to the scientific evidence, in December 2012 WDC presented a petition containing 36,000 signatures to then Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, Richard Lochhead. If you are a long-term WDC supporter, you may well have signed it.

The Scottish government launched a public consultation on MPAs in 2013, in response to proposals put forward by WDC and other organisations. An astonishing 6,627 of the 14,371 responses were from WDC supporters and others who wanted to make sure that whales and dolphins were included in these MPA plans along with other species.

In 2013, we took the campaign on the road, visiting the communities who lived around the areas that we were proposing for the Risso’s and minke whale MPAs. It was important to get the support of the people who share the coastline with the whales and dolphins. They were brilliant and quickly got on board, signing our postcards and writing letters to Members of the Scottish Parliament in support of our plans.

Then, in 2014, Scottish Natural Heritage – the government agency with responsibility for nature and conservation in Scotland – formally advised the government to designate these sites.

In 2015, to further encourage the government to take action, we even got local children involved. They drew some wonderful pictures which we made into a powerful banner to present to the Scottish government, demonstrating just how much people care. Throughout this time a large part of our job has been to meet with government representatives and other influencers and decision-makers to keep them informed and to build the case for these protected areas.

And all through this, our supporters have backed us, writing letters, signing postcards and petitions and sending emails. Our proposal was made so much stronger because not only were we building the scientific case for these protected areas, but we were also demonstrating that people wanted and expected them to be created.

Politicians will always listen more carefully when they can see there is public support. Having studied the dolphins in Lewis for the last nine years, we now know what a very special place this is for them. We watch them feeding and socialising and playing, and we often see groups of mothers and calves together, travelling close and surfacing harmoniously. They use this area all year round so the protected area we worked so hard to establish will be of enormous benefit to them.

Thank you for playing your part.






WDC at protest for better laws for UK marine life
Our skipper and me  deploying acoustic recorders
WDC researcher
MPA roadshow and inflatable WDC
signing postcards on the north coast harbour festival event WDC

Making Scottish seas safer: we've achieved a lot together

The Scottish government created protected areas for whales and dolphins in areas that we advised were important for minke whales and Risso's dolphins.

We understand so much more about Risso's dolphins in Scottish Seas because of our dedicated field study and citizen science programme.


Latest campaign news

Risso's dolphin

Remarkable Risso’s dolphins – how we’re studying them to protect them

And just like that, another season of field research studying remarkable Risso's dolphins came to...
Risso's dolphin

WDC wins campaign for protected areas in Scottish waters!

The news represents a huge victory for all our supporters too. Altogether the government will...
Risso's dolphin

We’re so close to winning protected areas in Scotland’s seas

It’s been eight years since we formally asked the Scottish government to protect the marine...
Minke whale in Scottish waters

Hope for whales and dolphins as ‘world first’ protected areas proposal is announced in Scotland

On the eve of World Oceans Day, promising news has emerged from Scotland with the...