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When and Where to see Marine Wildlife in Scotland

ORCA Wildlife Guide out on deck


Water makes up 71% of the earth's surface creating a rich habitat for countless creatures (some yet to be discovered). While humans traverse the seas there is another world existing just below the surface - one that has fascinated mankind since the dawn of time and still draws us towards the deep blue below.

Scotland is blessed with a multitude of marine life spread out across the West coast islands. And lucky for us the remarkable residents find their way to the surface to share their majesty with us regularly - you just need to know where to look. That's where CalMac comes in: We connect the mainland with some of Scotland's top marine wildlife hotspots. Here's where and when to see an all-star cast of famous sea-dwellers...

Bottlenose Dolphins

These magical creatures are the superstars of the sea. Watching the water break and these intelligent aquatic mammals leap into view is an unforgettable experience. Thankfully we have several pods of dolphins that call the west coast home and many locations on the CalMac network where you can have a close encounter. Take a trip to Skye where amongst the natural beauty of the island, dolphins are a common sight from its coast. Or travel a little further out to the remarkable Isle of Barra where you might catch a glimpse of the 'Barra Boys' - a pod of local dolphins who are local celebrities on the island.


(Photo Credit: Victoria Warren) 

Common & Grey Seals

From the main CalMac port of Oban you can take a trip out to the 'Seal Colony' - a rugged outlet home to a large number of seal families all co-existing in a complex but cohesive community. These animals are intelligent and inquisitive, often inspecting any visitors to their turf and following boats that come close to their home. The nearby islands of Kerrera and Lismore provide further opportunities to catch these cute creatures in their natural habitat. Common Seal pups make their debut in Summertime while Grey Seals birth their young in Autumn, catching sight of the wee ones is always a delight for visitors and locals alike.

Seals on Lewis


These elusive creatures camouflage themselves against costal rockpools and make themselves deliberately hard to find but for the eagle-eyed observer they make a beautiful discovery. Eurasian Otters are the species that thrives in Scottish waters and there is no better place to see them than the Isle of Mull. Just a short ferry ride from Oban and you'll find yourself in the vicinity of these hard-to-spot animals. Mull's 300 miles of coastline is a natural habitat for the Otters with local knowledge dictating that they are most active either side of the low tide creating the best opportunity to see them in the wild.


Minke Whales

They may be the smallest of the mammoth Baleen Whale family but at a length of 8 to 9 metres and a weight of up to 9 tons the Minke Whale is still a titan of the sea. Between July and September you'll have the best chance of catching sight of these magnificent mammals with the Isle of Lewis being a standout spot for observing. Travel through the Outer Hebrides or direct from Ullapool with CalMac to reach this shimmering jewel of stunning nature teeming with marine life of all kinds. Check out Tiumpan Head lighthouse for a known local whale-spotting location where a team of dedicated 'Shorewatchers' keep an eye out for local marine life and share their findings with the community.

Minke Whale Mull

Basking Sharks

From June to September the waters around Coll become a feeding ground for huge numbers of Basking Sharks who help themselves to the buffet of plankton on offer. The island is reachable via the CalMac network, but you'll need some help finding these underwater behemoths, some of which reach up to 12 metres in length. Thankfully there are a range of tours available to witness these great beasts at work, some operators even offer the chance to snorkel alongside these gentle giants. Coll's neighbouring island of Tiree is another well-known location for catching a glimpse of the Basking Shark in action before they migrate South for the winter.

This is just a taste of the incredible marine life Scotland has to offer. Spotting these creatures may be the whole purpose of your trip or just a day's expedition, but either way - a close encounter with these celebrities of the sea is an experience to roll out the red carpet for.

_0034_Basking Shark Scotland - Shark & Photographer

(Photo Credit:  Basking Shark Scotland  )


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