You don’t have to be on the water to spot a dolphin in Scotland if you know where to go writes Keith Broomfield. Cetacean expert Vincent Janik of the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St Andrews tells me that there are two main populations of bottlenose dolphins found around Scotland. The largest group comprises just under 200 animals and is found along the east coast. As well as the already mentioned sites, other reasonably reliable places to spot dolphins include the mouth of the Firth of Tay (Broughty Ferry Castle is a good viewpoint) and also at Anstruther in Fife on the outer edge of the Firth of Forth.
A smaller population of around 50 bottlenose dolphins is resident on the west coast around the Hebrides. They comprise of two different groups, one consisting of around 15 individuals that live mainly in the Sound of Barra, whereas the other is double that size and ranges more widely throughout the Inner Hebrides and western mainland coasts.
Other types of dolphin are found around Scotland too – such as the common dolphin, white-beaked dolphin and Risso’s dolphin – but they tend to be more offshore in their habits and are therefore not seen nearly so often. Dolphins are long-lived animals and have only been studied in more recent times, which makes it difficult to determine any long-term trends in numbers, but indications suggest that at least the eastern Scottish population is probably stable.
Studies at St Andrews will hopefully shed more light on our bottlenose dolphins and help develop strategies to ensure their protection. Our iconic Scottish animals represent the world’s most northerly resident populations, and with numbers standing at somewhere less than 300 individuals, there is no doubt that they are also among our most vulnerable creatures.
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