Ask a native for the best place to go dolphin watching in Scotland, and most of them will point you in the direction of Chanonry Point on the East coast. The scenic spot has long been hailed as one of the best places to see dolphins in Scotland, with the best time for a sighting coming in at low tide (when the dolphins begin to chase the fish). But, as with any well-known wildlife spot, this tourist trodden stop-point is a busy one and so we wanted to highlight some of the lesser-talked about Highland dolphin locations …
Where else can you see dolphins in Scotland?
Alongside Chanonry Point, Spey Bay on the Eastern Scottish coast (and the seaside areas around Inverness) have become popular dolphin spotting locations. However, the West coast shouldn’t be disregarded. In fact, specialist boat tours often enable wildlife lovers to get closer to the action, using the islands of the Inner Hebrides as a base. Tours around the Isle of Mull provide opportunity to watch both Common dolphins and Risso’s dolphins (a truly exciting spot as this species tends to reside in deeper ocean waters and the North of Scotland is their northern limit). Learn more about the Risso’s dolphin on the Isle of Mull website. Heading further North? Sightings of the Common dolphin around the waters of Mallaig are also frequently documented, often appearing in large pods that remain in the area for weeks.
Dolphin trips on the West of Scotland
A wildlife boat trip is a more reliable way to spend some time with a friendly dolphin (or two) on the West coast. These tour companies have been exploring the waters for years, are familiar with regular pods and can help you identify individual species.
Oban and Mull – Some of our favourite local providers:
Sealife Adventures – Offer a Whale Search and Corryvreckan Cruise (lasting 4 & 5 hours). Whales, dolphins, porpoise, otters and seals feed in different areas depending on the state of the tide, and so they time their cruises according to this to ensure the best possible chance of a sighting. Guides are familiar with regular pods of Bottlenose Dolphins, Common Dolphins, Risso’s Dolphins, and White-Beaked Dolphins – see footage of baby Bottlenose Dolphins riding on the bow waves here.
Seafari Adventures Oban – Seafari Adventures offer 2 tours with the chance of seeing dolphins, whales and porpoise: a 2-hour Wildlife Tour on an open RIB and a 3-hour tour on their more traditional boat focusing on the whale feeding grounds. Watch how close the dolphins get to their boats in this quick video.
Basking Shark Scotland – For a full day experience, BSS’s 8hr Whale, Dolphin & Marine Wildlife Tour uses their fastest Rigid Inflatable Boat to get you to whale grounds quickly and comfortably. Their team allow tour pick-ups from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, giving you additional options during your travels around Argyll and Bute.
Western Isles Cruises – Their 1-Hour Wildlife Cruise has become a popular attraction in Mallaig, passing by the isles of Skye, Rhum, and Eigg and into the open waters frequented regularly by porpoises, dolphins, sharks. A great option for those short on time!
Can you swim with dolphins in Scotland?
Reputable tour companies will stress that, although often friendly, dolphins are still wild animals that should be approached with caution. Providers are keen to ensure the normal routine of Scotland’s wildlife is not disrupted. As a result, we encourage one of the above dolphin safaris/tours as an alternative to riding them or treating them like a theme-park attraction.
Trips to see whales and dolphins in West Scotland
It’s not only dolphins making the West of Scotland home! A trip to the Highlands also presents an opportunity to catch a glimpse of whales, seals and porpoise. Summer is the best time to prepare your sea legs and get out on the waters for a once-in-a-lifetime whale watching expedition. The Sealife Adventures teams boasts 25 years of whale tour experience and advise that there’s strong chance of a sighting on their 4 and 5 hour Whale Spotting Cruises. What’s more, young Minke Whales in their area are known for being particularly curious and often come very close to (and sometimes even under) the boat. A small pod of the majestic Orca (Killer Whale) has also made their home in the Hebrides. Although a lot of the pod’s most recent sightings have been based around Skye and the Northern tip of Scotland, they have been known to make their way down the West coast and so both our recommended tour companies don’t rule out the possibility of seeing them.
Just a half hour drive South of Oban Pier, our coastal country house hotel is a peaceful base from which to enjoy Argyll’s wildlife. Our team can help with dolphin and whale watching tour recommendations, alongside transfer to your boat tours. Take a look at our Sea-view rooms. We strongly advise that you book your wildlife trip early, as they tend to fill up fast, especially during Summer months!