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Why does everyone love dolphins, especially, in Scotland, the Moray Firth dolphins? Is it those half-remembered Flipper television shows from childhood? Or is it because they are always drawn with big smiles on their faces?
Years ago, when I looked after the marine aquarium in Macduff, Aberdeenshire, if dolphins appeared offshore, the staff could empty the place in seconds simply by walking round and shouting ‘dolphins spotted outside’. I used to try countermanding this by yelling ‘Stop, stop, you haven’t been in the gift shop yet!’ But no, there was this mad stampede of exiting visitors every time.
One summer, I remember walking the dogs at Spey Bay on the Moray Firth coast, between Buckie and Lossiemouth. Surprise. Dolphins leaping around, right at the mouth of the River Spey. I had no camera. So I went back the next day and they were still there, only a bit further out but still close enough for me to take one of the worst-ever dolphin photographs. Yes, I agree, it’s pathetic. (Pictured below.) It’s half a dolphin. But I feel obliged to share it with you.
I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years I’ve had to write about these beasties – the very symbol of wildlife in Scotland. The best-known are the bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth colony. These are some of the biggest individuals anywhere in the world because the feeding grounds are rich and also, because the water is cold, they need an extra-thick layer of blubber. (This is also good advice if you plan to swim there yourself. Or am I reinforcing Scottish weather stereotyping?)
Naturally, every place and every tourism organisation wants to give the impression that the Moray Firth dolphins are on their patch. You’ll hear that Chanonry Point on the north side of the Firth by Fortrose is a great place for them, if you are shore-watching. There are published pictures of them by the Kessock Bridge and Inverness. You’ll see them from Fort George, from Nairn and, well, it seems they can pop up anywhere.
I’ve seen the Moray Firth dolphins east of Macduff quite frequently and once, while walking the shoreline just west of Portsoy, I actually heard them before I saw them. There was a kind of gasping exhalation - which I knew right away wasn’t me – and I turned round to find a few of them breathtakingly close inshore. Or perhaps I mean taking a breath close inshore. Naturally, I had no camera. No matter, the point is you’re never sure where you’ll see your next dolphin. That’s part of the fun.
There are lots of seagoing types based around the Moray Firth who will take you out in their boats to see them. Check that these businesses all comply with the recommendations in the code of practice known as the Dolphin Space Programme, which respects their personal space. This allows the dolphins to concentrate on avoiding moronic jet skiers, a description which some may consider tautology.
Anyway, even if you don’t see dolphins right at the river mouth at Spey Bay, (pictured above, just above the mouth at high tide) in summer you can often see fishing osprey even before you’ve climbed out of your car and there are terns and waders galore and about a million pieces of temptingly arty-crafty pieces of driftwood cast up on the massive, stony storm-beach. The picture above is looking west at high tide and though it seems quite sylvan, is really very close to the river-mouth. Finally, except in high summer, a knitted woolly hat (or toorie as we would call it) is also advised, should you wish to blend into the background and to keep your ears from falling off in the wind.
Right, that's enough about the Moray Firth dolphins. Click that link to return to the north-east 'Where is Scotland?' tour.
On the other hand, if you're one of these keen dolphin folk then you can read about another encounter with dolphins here, this time in Knoydart on the west coast. Finally, remember, if you are looking for a base within easy reach of the Moray Firth dolphins, then I would personally recommend Academy House in Fordyce. It's a very comfortable house in a little village just minutes from the sea. And your hosts, Richard and Sandra, have lots of local knowledge they are happy to share.
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