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© David Haines

Shorewatch, Scotland

Watch out for whales and dolphins around Scotland with WDC Shorewatch

Scotland is an amazing place to see whales and dolphins safe and free; local Shorewatchers are taking action to make sure that it stays that way.

Shorewatch is a network of volunteers trained and supported by WDC to carry out regular 10-minute surveys from Shorewatch sites across Scotland. 

We know that Scotland is home to a number of whale and dolphin species, yet there are still so many unanswered questions about where they breed, feed and travel. We believe it is important to keep eyes on the sea so we can better understand these amazing creatures to better protect them.  Understanding their movements will allow us to comprehend how our behaviours affect whales and dolphins. We can use the data we gather to influence policy makers and advise developers to ensure better protection for whales and dolphins. Shorewatch relies on our amazing community volunteers to collect this vital data.

We need more help - get involved!

Objectives of Shorewatch

  • Bring marine conservation expertise to local communities through attending local events, informing campaigns and supporting volunteers.
  • Engage local people in the process of protecting and conserving the marine environment and the wellbeing of local whales and dolphins.
  • Inform conservationally minded marine planning by identifying specific seasons or locations of importance to suggest when development will have the least impact.
  • Contribute to the designation of MPAs by providing data to government as they search for key areas of importance.
  • Support monitoring of MPAs by collecting a long term data set which will show changes in the presence and absence of whales at key sites over time.


Shorewatch began in 2005 at the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre where volunteers and staff did regular watches for bottlenose dolphins to give visitors the best chance to see these amazing creatures.  During the summer months, we still conduct these watches every hour and even use a walkie talkie to make sure that even visitors who are in the cafe or centre buildings know when there are dolphins outside!  Along with spotting dolphins when they visit, we have put this data to work in marine conservation by highlighting the most important months for bottlenose dolphins at Spey Bay and encouraging developers to avoid this period when they are conducting works.

Based on the success at Spey Bay, 2010 saw the start of our expansion to communities further afield around the Scottish coastline and since then, Shorewatch has developed sites ranging from the west coast and outer Hebrides, around the north, through the Moray Firth and down the east coast.  Shorewatch volunteers all attend an initial training so that each 10-minute Shorewatch is carried out the same way and can be compared to other watches and sites over time. Our vibrant and enthusiastic network of volunteers continues to grow and we are regularly awed by the energy and commitment which they give freely to watch out for whales and dolphins.


So what exactly is a Shorewatch?

  • A ‘Shorewatch’ is a 10-minute whale, dolphin and porpoise survey carried out by trained volunteers at specific sites around Scotland
  • All Shorewatch volunteers attend a training day so that the watches are carried out in the same way and we can compare watches between observers. (Yes, you will learn how to identify common whales, dolphins and porpoises as well!)
  • We record every watch, even when there were no whale or dolphin sightings, so that we can compare the frequency of sightings between seasons and years.
  • Volunteers watch from selected sites around the Scottish coast so that we can build up enough watches to reliably note when whales and dolphins are changing how they’re using these sites.


  • More than 85,000 watches have been completed
  • 928 volunteers have carried out a Shorewatch since 2005
  • Developers like SSE have informed the timing of works by using Shorewatch data to determine when bottlenose dolphins were the most likely to be present at a local site.
  • In Embling et al., 2015, we demonstrate the effectiveness of Shorewatch as a tool to carry out long-term shore-based monitoring of bottlenose dolphins.
  • In Weir et al., 2018, Shorewatch data demonstrated that Risso’s dolphins are present year-round off the Isle of Lewis and resulted in additional photo-ID research effort during the winter months.
  • In Gutiérrez-Muñoz et al., 2021, we present findings for patterns and trends in cetacean occurrence around the Scottish coastline.
Carrying out survey for Shorewatch

Find out more about Shorewatch

Visit our dedicated web page to find out how to get involved.

Dive deeper into Shorewatch

What sort of skills do you need?

Do you:

  • Want the wonderful opportunity to experience seeing whales and dolphins safe and free?
  • Want to learn more about whales and dolphins?
  • Want to volunteer to collect vital data to help protect whales and dolphins?
  • Want to link into a network of interesting, engaged and active people around Scotland?

If so, you should join the Shorewatch team!

What do you need to do?

As a Shorewatch volunteer you will:

  • Live close enough to access to one of our Shorewatch sites
  • Attend a Shorewatch training to learn how to become a citizen scientist to protect whales and dolphins on your doorstep.
  • Conduct 10 minute surveys from a local Shorewatch site, when it suits you
  • Become part of a Scotland wide Shorewatch monitoring network taking action on behalf of whales and dolphins
  • Meet new people
  • Inspire others.

How do we use the data?

Sometimes, sightings alone can give us valuable insight into areas of importance: for example, Shorewatchers spotting Risso’s dolphins from the Isle of Lewis in the winter months made us rethink the assumption that these were summer visitors and has led to more winter research. Similarly, spotting harbour porpoises with very new (neonate) babies at a given site would lead us to consider whether this area might be an important nursery ground for mothers and calves and advise for protection accordingly.  

Did you know that it’s just as important to keep track of when we don’t see whales and dolphins?  This is called ‘effort-based data’. We can prove which sites are important to Risso’s dolphins by demonstrating that we don’t see them at other sites even though Shorewatchers have be actively looking. Likewise, if we do the same number of Shorewatches every month throughout the year but only see minke whales during watches in May through September, we can be pretty clear that they are a summer visitor; if we didn’t watch during the winter, it would be possible that minkes were there but we just weren’t looking!  By looking at our data from different sites and over the years, we can see if the important sites change and continue to protect the most important areas for whales and dolphins around Scotland.

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


Run, bake, walk, cycle… what could you do to help?