Having just got back from a week up North in Nairn watching lots of different wildlife, this week’s post is about a beautiful mammal that is not normally associated with Scotland; Dolphins.
The Moray Firth is home to a rich diversity of marine life including harbour porpoises, otters, basking sharks and famously 192 bottlenose dolphins. The biggest and fattest bottlenose dolphins in the world, in Scotland!
They’re known for their acrobatic displays just off the shore of Chanonry Point where they trap large amounts of mackerel, salmon or any other medium sized fish they can eat in a deep channel of water off the end of the point which they feed on in between back flips.
Seeing the dolphins feed at the point was one of the main reasons we decided to spend a week in the area so we checked the tide times and timed our visit on an incoming tide just as the nearby dolphin centres and websites advised and waited.
We waited from 4pm to 8pm but saw no signs of any hungry dolphins. The only entertainment we got during our 4 hour wait was from a heron gull trying to crack open a large crab it had plucked from the water by picking it up and dropping it from a height.
While waiting at the busy spot we got speaking to people who were around us, a family told us about a little boat trip they had been on earlier in the day that left from Avoch. It was affordable and had got them up really close with the dolphins who were far out at sea when they saw them. Needless to say having not seen the dolphins on the Tuesday night we booked 3 seats on the boat with Dolphin Trips Avoch for Thursday lunch time.
Arriving in Avoch on Thursday we found it to be a very picturesque seaside village with a quaint little harbor.
The company runs hour long boat trips, every hour from 10am so after we checked in we spent some time getting to know the boat company’s dog and trying to photograph the swallows flying around the harbor while waiting for the boat to come back in.
Just as I was learning to keep up with the swallows our small 10 seated vessel pulled into the harbor.
The boat docked, unloaded its passengers and we boarded. Just as we were moving off I got a really good look at a little swallow relaxing on a ladder.
Soon we were on our way out in onto the firth searching for dolphins. Unfortunately the two boat trips before us didn’t find any, so the captain warned us not to get our hopes up but to keep our eyes peeled.
Just after we passed Chanonry Point we slowed right down almost to a complete stop. Surprisingly the captain informed us that we couldn’t travel any further out to sea as the M.O.D were performing a live fire exercise at Fort George which prevented us from crossing an area of the channel right in front of us between a red and a yellow buoy marked with flags. Only ships with a designated destination could cross and the cracks we could hear in the distance were actually live gunfire!
The captain did say that if we did see dolphins in the restricted area he would phone the M.O.D and ask permission to enter the area for 10 minutes to see them up close but with no dolphins in sight our chances seemed slim.
While we were bobbing along the edge of the restricted area, there were lots of cormorants around us either passing close by in flight or relaxing on the red buoy which marked the restricted area.
It started getting close to time for us to head back when the captain thought he saw movement in the distance to the right of the yellow buoy. Dad and I with binoculars and camera respectively quickly looked and confirmed we both thought something dolphin like was in the area. The captain quickly called the M.O.D and we were instantly off to investigate.
As we got closer it was exactly what we hoped!
The dolphins were in transit so had no time for a somersault display but they came right up to the boat to investigate us.
The captain informed us that the dolphins hadn’t been visiting Chanonry point as much lately because they had very young calves so they hadn’t been travelling as far as they normally do.
You could occasionally see the small dorsal fin of one of the two calves as it swam by.
Unfortunately our time was up and we had to head back to the harbor to allow the next trip to start on time but just as we were leaving one of the calves popped its head out of the water.
Although our encounter was brief and there were no acrobatics everyone on the boat was over the moon to have seen them. We enjoyed it so much after getting off the boat we went back into to the office to tell them how much we enjoyed the trip!
After discussing the amazing trip the women asked if we could help them out, of course we said yes. It turned out she meant help the dolphins.
The dolphin’s habitat is under threat from a plan to pump oil ship-to-ship in the nearby Cromarty Firth. It’s a serious threat to these amazing animals that many people from the UK and around the world come to see and renewed talks were held about the possibility of continuing the plan in May 2016. Every signature counts, so we ask that you please take a minute to add your name to the nearly 15,000 strong petition so we can continue to watch these unique and amazing animals for many years to come. You can sign here, thanks.
Our tips for seeing the dolphins;
1.) If you are planning a trip to Chanonry point the best time to see them is apparently 1 hour after low tide when they can easily close in on fish so check the tide times and plan to visit as close to then as you can. Obviously you are not guaranteed to see them but that gives the best opportunity. (We did find out that the dolphins were active at the point on Wednesday evening after our unsuccessful visit on Tuesday evening!)
2.) If taking a boat trip out on the Firth when you phone to book ask the company if they know of a planned military exercise at Fort George on the day you plan to go as this will seriously affect where the boat can go and may prevent you from seeing the dolphins (we were lucky). If a live fire exercise is planned I would advise booking the trip for a different day if you can to give you the best chance of seeing them. I would definitely recommend Dolphin Trips Avoch at £16 per person for an hour long trip you get far more value for money than other boats leaving from destinations further away.
3.) Whether visiting the point or taking a boat trip, take clothing for all kinds of weather as it can and typically does change very quickly. I can’t recall seeing a toilet at Chanonry point so I would also advise you go before a visit.
4.) If seeing dolphins just isn’t enough the RSPB’s Toille Red Kite site is only about 30 mins drive from Chanonry Point and even less from Avoch where you can see these incredible raptors being fed during the day. We visited and had great time and will be writing a post about it in the near future. You can easily do both in a day and make it an incredible day of watching wildlife.
Until next time.