The Marvels of Moray
The Moray Firth is one of the best places in the UK to see marine mammals, especially the Bottlenose Dolphins for which it is famous.
For various reasons I haven't made it up to the Moray Coast for some time, but with restrictions on international travel this year, I've had more opportunity for trips up to Scotland and this corner of the Highlands.
The main dolphin watching area at Chanonry Point has become very busy in recent years and the days when it was known only to a few wildlife enthusiasts are now gone. There are crowds on the beach looking out for dolphins every day, although sensible distancing was observed by everyone this year. The limited parking is now pay and display, but there is also parking in the village of Fortrose and a shuttle bus.
The best time to spot dolphins from Chanonry Point is on a rising tide when they chase fish deeper into the Firth, so check out the tide times before you visit. July and August are usually the best months when the Salmon are running, but we had good sightings on two out of three days in mid September.
If Chanonry Point is a bit busy for your tastes there are other good dolphin spotting areas further out into the Firth, from Fort George which is on the narrowest point of the Firth, and from several beaches. We had great sightings from Nairn beach and pier, with groups of dolphins fishing further out beyond the mouth of the Firth, and two groups moving in towards Chanonry Point too. They are a bit more distant from here, and a telescope or binoculars are useful.
Seals and Harbour porpoise can also be spotted all over Moray, although you need a calm day to spot elusive Porpoises, and I'm pretty sure I also spotted a Minke Whale further out near the mouth. However the highlight of watching from Nairn Pier was sightings of several Basking Sharks. These huge, peaceful animals gather together around the coast in Autumn before migrating for the winter. Some move further offshore whilst others head for warmer seas in the south of the UK or Spain and Portugal. At one point we could see five of these amazing sharks from Nairn, and made friends with a number of locals who were able to get a better look through the telescope.
Basking sharks show very little above the surface, and can confuse people into thinking they are two animals, with the dorsal fin, tip of the tail, and sometimes the nose just showing. They are so huge, 6-8 meters in length, it is hard to believe they are one animal.
It was great to reacquaint ourselves with the wonderful marinelife on this bit of coastline, and we left promising not to leave it so long before visiting again.