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Marine mammals and licensing

Licensing advice in relation to whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals.

Whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans)

All cetacean species in Scotland are given protection under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) as European protected species.

Most activities in the sea are unlikely to result in disturbance or risk of injury to cetaceans.  However, if injury or disturbance were likely to result from the activity, a licence would be required in order for that activity to be carried out legally.  As with other protected species, licences are available for only specific purposes and strict conditions must be satisfied before licences are granted.

If you are planning to carry out surveys for cetaceans, or research on them, or if the proposal is for conservation purposes in inshore waters, then Scottish Natural Heritage is the appropriate licensing authority and you should contact or telephone 01463 725364.

Scottish Natural Heritage can issue licences for the possession of cetaceans for scientific, research or educational purposes.  This would cover circumstances such as scientists using samples for research, or for museums, schools or ranger services possessing dead cetaceans or their bones, for display for educational purposes. For a licence to be issued there needs to be a clear demonstration of an educational or scientific use.  If you wish to apply for a licence to possess a dead wildcat, please contact or telephone 01463 725364 with the following information:

  • your name, address, email and telephone number;
  • number and nature of individual specimens eg whole or part;
  • what is the purpose for possession;
  • location where found;
  • date found;
  • where it will be kept. 

Licensing of commercial activities such as seismic surveying or testing, or installing renewable energy devices in inshore waters and imperative reasons of overriding public interest which might affect cetaceans is the responsibility of Marine Scotland external site .

For any activities in offshore waters (defined as 12 nautical miles or more) that might otherwise constitute an offence in relation to cetaceans (or any other European protected species), Defra are the appropriate licensing authority.   


On the 1st February 2011 it became an offence to kill, injure or take a seal at any time of year except to alleviate suffering or where a licence has been issued to do so by Marine Scotland under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 external site . The method of killing or taking seals is detailed in the licenses issued annually and regular reporting will be required. Licences can be issued to take or kill a seal for the following purposes:

  • for scientific research or educational purposes;
  • to conserve natural habitats;
  • to conserve seals or other wild animals (including wild birds) or wild plants; 
  • in connection with the introduction of seals, other wild animals (including wild birds) or wild plants to particular areas;
  • to protect a zoological or botanical collection;
  • to protect the health and welfare of farmed fish;
  • to prevent serious damage to fisheries or fish farms;
  • to prevent the spread of disease among seals or other animals (including birds) or plants;
  • to preserve public health or public safety;
  • or for other imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment.

Before granting a seal licence the Scottish Ministers must have regard to any information they have about:

  • damage which seals have already done to the fishery or fish farm concerned;
  • and the effectiveness of non-lethal alternative methods of preventing seal damage to the fishery or fish farm concerned.

More information is available at: external site  

You can contact Marine Scotland at:

or by writing to: The Scottish Government, Victoria Quay. Edinburgh, EH6 6QQ.

If you plan to enter a seal Special Area of Conservation to carry out research on seals please contact Scottish Natural Heritage to discuss your project.

Last updated on Friday 20th January 2017 at 12:19 PM. Click here to comment on this page