No matter where in the world you are, if you are given the opportunity to experience the magnificence that is our natural wildlife can offer, take it. From animal focused safaris where you are the one in a cage, to diving and whale watching, we are lucky that there are options for us to see the wild creatures of earth in their natural environments, without causing them undue harm.
If you’re in Scotland, you will be able to experience an untamed beauty both on land and on the seas. Many of the small islands are a short boat ride away, and it’s not all just about trying to see Lochie.
Sea Wildlife of Mallaig
On the West Coast of Scotland is the main fishing port of Mallaig, which just so happened to also be the location for filming of the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies. But with a permanent population of less than 1,000 people, Mallaig is also home to some amazing marine life and a variety of cruises, including the Western Isle Cruises.
Yes, in a short one hour cruise setting out from Mallaig and skirting past the Isle of Skye you can see whales. Although not a daily occurrence Minke whales have even made it into the harbour. The best time to try your luck at whale watching is between July and October. Sperm whales and Long-Finned Pilot whales are uncommon, normally only spotted in the deep water further out, but do occasionally make it closer in. Killer whales are slightly more common and have been spotted in west of Skye.
Risso’s Dolphins can usually be spotted between April and September, more so around the Isles. While the Short-beaked common dolphin is less commonly found close to land, if you are going to be so lucky as to spot one (or a pod) you are most likely to see them May to July. The most likely dolphin to be spotted will be the Harbour Porpoise, found all along the West Highland cost of Scotland, particularly closer to the shore. However, the frequency of harbour porpoise’s being seen increases between July and October. You can click here to see a list of cetaceans of western Scotland.
Although not everyone dreams of seeing a shark when they go out looking for adventure on the seas, Basking sharks are something to behold – often measuring around 30ft / 6-8m long. Because they feed on the surface you will be more likely to see them, but despite their size they slow moving plankton eaters and quite passive creatures. However, they are a valuable commercial fish and in some areas like New Zealand they have been subject to extreme overfishing and dramatic population decline.
Otters & Seals
If you’re lucky before you even hope on board your cruise you might be lucky enough to see otters playing in the harbour or seals basking on the beach. The seals are cheeky enough to be known to swim along with the cruising boats as well.
There are a range of birds that can be spotted in and around Mallaig, both land birds and sea birds. Sightings include the Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, American Black Duck and Blue-winged Teal, and the Highland Records Committee tries to keep accurate records from Scottish Ornithologists and visiting bird spotters: http://www.highlandbirds.scot/recording.html
Tips For Adventuring On A Wildlife Cruise
Particularly in Scotland, but really for any boat trip where you will want to be up on deck so that you can hopefully spot some local wildlife there are a few things that can make your trip so much more enjoyable:
- Layers, wear many layers. On a beautiful day when the sea is calm you will be surprised at how hot you can get with the sun’s rays reflecting off the water. However, as soon as the wind picks up the temperature goes down, quite rapidly.
- Waterproof layers – even if it’s not raining the chances of you getting a bit of sea spray in your hair are high. But don’t be put off by a bit of rain, often that is when you will see the most amazing marine life in the water.
- Comfortable clothing & footwear – yes, you’re not going to be walking far on the boat, but you will want to be comfortable, and you will want to wear footwear that lets you move around solidly and securely on deck. Commercial wildlife cruises will have their customers safety at the forefront, however wet boat decks are still slippery.