Bottlenose dolphin numbers – Scottish update

The number of bottlenose dolphins using the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC), off the coast of Scotland, remains stable, according to a report by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

This is the most northern resident bottlenose dolphin population in the world, and recognised as a major tourist attraction along Scotland’s northeast coast, generating upwards of £4m per year for the local economy.

Around 200 bottlenose dolphins call the coastal North Sea near Scotland home. More than half of these dolphins frequently use the Moray Firth, part of which is an EU-classified SAC to help protect these marine mammals.

The new report indicates that although there is some variability in the numbers of dolphins using the Moray Firth SAC each year, the numbers appear to be generally stable over the long term. Additional monitoring indicates there is an overall increase in dolphin numbers on the east coast. The research, commissioned by SNH and carried out by the University of Aberdeen, also suggests dolphins use the SAC outside the summer months more often than was previously thought.

Despite these positive results, the North Sea’s only resident bottlenose dolphin population is still considered to be vulnerable, though no change is suggested to their current favourable and recovered condition status. Stretching from the Moray Firth to Fife and further south, the population is relatively small and dolphins reproduce slowly. While many of the dolphins travel along the coast between these different areas, the population remains isolated.

Morven Carruthers, SNH Marine Policy & Advice Officer, said: “This is great news for the dolphins and for Scotland in general. We have been monitoring dolphins in the Moray Firth SAC for many years and it’s been wonderful to see stability in their numbers.

“Dolphin watching is a beloved activity for locals and visitors alike throughout Scotland. It’s great to see a growing bottlenose dolphin population on the east coast.”

The Moray Firth SAC was designated in 2005 under the European Habitats Directive for bottlenose dolphins. It extends from the inner firths to Helmsdale on the north coast and Lossiemouth on the south coast.

View the SNH Commissioned Report 1021: Site Condition Monitoring of bottlenose dolphins within the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation: 2014-2016.

View the bottlenose dolphin data held on the NBN Atlas Scotland.

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