Whale Watching Scotland: Tips & Tricks for Observing Wildlife

Whale watching Scotland. Basically high headlands and binoculars. Please be responsible with parking, being outdoors, farm gates, fields and animals, cliffs and weather conditions..

BirdGuides/birdtrack let you input whale and dolphin sightings as well as birds. And everyone can then see what’s around when out and about.

This is just my personal guide of Whale Watching Scotland, it’s not comprehensive or official, maybe slightly wrong in places but you are welcome to use it to get a feel for sea watching. If you have found it useful, please buy me a coffee. I’m not an expert but I am passionate about all wildlife and the environment.

Orca Watch 2024 is from 25 May to 2 June. Don’t forget to record any sightings of cetaceans on Birdtrack as well so more people have a chance to see them. Please don’t gatekeep sightings, please share and let everyone enjoy the wildlife that is around  here. Share your knowledge and excitement so others can pass on that joy and open eyes for other people. You never know who you might spark an interest. 

What to expect: anything, anywhere at any time of year. There is no magic formula. There is more food available for all species in May to September making them easier to see.

Return passenger trips on ferries can be really productive. Ullapool to Stornaway goes over a very deep ocean trench, which also goes by Truimphan Head and is a good feeding area. Worth googling Ferry companies for Marine Mammal surveys – CalMac, Stena, Northlink

scrabster to Stromness is a great trip too  

There are whale watching Scotland groups on FB but unlike other wildlife groups they gatekeep information and sightings which is a great shame as I believe wildlife is for everyone to enjoy.

Expect to sit gazing at the sea for hours at a time. It’s very therapeutic.

What have I seen during my whale watching Scotland: Pilot whales, Harbour Porpoises, Orca (John Coe, Aquarius, Hulk, Comet), Rissos, Sperm Whale, Fin whale, Humpback Whale, Bottlenose Dolphins, Minke, Common Dolphins, sweet White Beaked Dolphins

There are good identification guides online.

I believe wildlife should be shared by everyone. I lived in Kenya in 1970s and within my lifetime Rhinos have become endangered as have over 5000 other species. The Western Isle Orcas may have excessive PCBs in their body which may limit breeding. We don’t know what’s in the sea and how it affects wildlife. We now know avian flu has been found in otters and seals. Will it go further up the food chain? It a very uncertain world so see what you can, where you can and enjoy.

Shetland – any safe lay-by that overlooks the sea.

As mentioned these are just my personal recommended sites for whale watching Scotland and not in any way official. You’ll also find your own sites once you know what to look for.

Google is your friend. It’s also worth googling whale watching Scotland and googling these place names plus dolphin, marine mammal or whatever term you prefer. Googling will give you an idea of time of year or day if you wish.

  1. Gourock
  2. Wemyss Bay
  3. Ayr Harbour
  4. Largs
  5. Corsewall Point
  6. Burrow Head,
  7. Dunskey Castle,
  8. Balcary Point,
  9. Mull of Galloway
  10. Southerness Point.
  11. Trinkie Wick
  12. Swiney Hill Lybster
  13. Duncansby Cliff, John O Groats
  14. Thurso Beach
  15. Dunnet Head Lighthouse
  16. Holborn Head
  17. Sarclet Head
  18. Rhue
  19. Gairloch cemetery car park
  20. Airdmair
  21. Durness/Cannebaine
  22. Kinneard Bay
  23. Portknockie
  24. Spey Bay
  25. Cullen
  26. Burghead
  27. Troup Head RSPB
  28. Tarbet Ness (saw Sperm Whale and Humpback in very rare sighting and very far away)
  29. Helmsdale
  30. Brora
  31. Latheronwheel
  32. St John’s Point
  33. Viewpoint before Kalnakill near Applecross
  34. Chanonry Point – very popular spot for Bottlenose Dolphins. Google for best times.
  35. Pettycur Bay, Fife
  36. Seafield Beach, Fife
  37. Hawcraig Point, Aberdour, Fife
  38. Tay Estuary
  39. Torry Battery, Aberdeen Harbour now has cafe.
  40. Wild Coastal Trail is a great booklet giving locations in the Highlands, when to look for and can be downloaded.
  41. Neist Point, Skye.
  42. The Whale Trail in the Hebrides is a great document available online.

Noss Lighthouse is private. They have made public via media they are unhappy with the amount of parking mayhem there is. It may not be anything to do with whale watching but if the car parks to access the lighthouse are full, please go back or avoid altogether  

Whale Watching Scotland

When the sea is calm, you’ll see much more as rhythmic splashes are a big giveaway. If there’s white caps and a swell, not so much.

Another big giveaway for whale watching Scotland can be huge fish shoals with hundreds of gulls, and diving gannets so look to see if there are any fins. I’ve quite often seen Harbour Porpoise and Minke together on shoals.

Quite often cetaceans go one way, it’s not guaranteed but worth knowing if you want to plan a further stop up the road. My experience is that Orcas are a lot faster than you think.

If you see any injured or dying bird please leave even though it’s distressing and report to DEFRA. Avian flu has been found in otters and seals now.

If you come across an injured seal, mammal or stranding contact your local organisation. In Scotland report to SMAS.
Be aware mammals also carry their own viruses so be careful what you inhale.

Be kind, communicate, spread the joy.