skip to main content

Dolphins and porpoises

The waters around Scotland are amongst the finest in Europe for seeing dolphins and porpoises. Five species are relatively common and can often be seen either from our shores or from a boat:

  • Harbour porpoise
  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • White-beaked dolphin
  • Common dolphin
  • Risso's dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins are perhaps the best-known cetaceans found around Scotland. They can be seen close inshore on both the east and west coasts, but are less frequently seen on the north coast and in the northern isles. The Moray Firth supports the only known resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the North Sea. This is a small population of about 195 animals that ranges throughout the Moray Firth and all the way down the east coast at least as far as the Firth of Forth. The Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation was created to protect the bottlenose dolphins that use this important area.


Harbour porpoises are the smallest cetaceans found in Scottish waters. They are also the most abundant cetacean in inshore waters, being found all around our coastline. They tend to be alone or in small groups, although they may form larger groups in areas where there is an abundant food source.

If you are patient and watch carefully from a vantage point, such as a headland, you may catch a glimpse of a harbour porpoise, although in rough water it can be difficult to pick out their small dorsal fins. They are less likely to display than other cetaceans and tend to move quickly away from approaching boats.

See details about how we are protecting our dolphins and porpoises and information about licensing.

Last updated on Monday 8th June 2015 at 12:09 PM. Click here to comment on this page