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Watch the Dolphins

Scotland's Dolphin Coast: as the name suggests, Banffshire is home to some very special residents. A population of around 130 bottlenose dolphins - the most northerly population in the world - has made the Moray Firth its home.

These enigmatic creatures draw people from all over the UK and even further afield in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they will be lucky enough to catch a glimpse. The dolphins are often happy to oblige and they frequently frolic so close to the shore that you do not even need binoculars to see them. It's widely known in these parts that the best time to see a dolphin is when you are not looking for one, but if you want to increase your chances then there are some excellent viewpoints on the Banffshire Coast where you can go to keep a look out. The dolphins can be spotted throughout the year, but sightings are more common in summer because they come in closer to the shore in search of prey.

If you dream of a close dolphin encounter, there are a number of boat tour operators that will ensure you can get close enough to capture some great photographs if the dolphins do make an appearance, but not so close as to upset or disturb them.

A vast amount of research has been carried out on the bottlenose dolphins, and they continue to be the focus for scientists. What we do know is that they tend to be larger than other bottlenose dolphins - perhaps because they carry an additional layer of body fat to protect themselves against the chilly Moray Firth temperatures - can grow up to four metres in length, and live for up to 50 years. They are incredibly sociable creatures and they hang out with their own network of friends, playing chase, leaping out of the water and patrolling. The dolphins communicate with each other underwater by using their own unique whistle.

Some dolphins - or louping dogs as they were sometimes known in the old local Doric dialect - are such frequent visitors to the area that they can be individually identified by markings or notches on their dorsal fins which poke above the waves. Some are seen so frequently that they even have names - watch out for Sundance, Rainbow and Moonlight.

One of the leading authorities on the Moray Firth dolphins is the charity Whale and Dolphin Society and you can also find out more about efforts to help protect and conserve cetaceans through the Gardenstown-based charity, Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit.

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