Dolphins, Porpoises & Whales, Oh My
Whale-watching will teach even the most active adventurer about the virtue of patience. During a typical cruise, you’ll spend a good chunk of your time waiting on the observation deck, scanning the open seas. Be prepared to grab hold of a railing if the waves get choppy, which they tend to do on breezy days. As you keep looking around and hoping to see a large whale or majestic dolphin leap out of the ocean, the anticipation mounts. When you finally spot a fin, perhaps on a minke whale, your heart skips a beat. As its vast body finally comes arching out of the water, followed by a powerful tail flapping down with a giant splash, your adrenaline starts pumping.
When it comes to seeing marine mammals in their natural habitat, Scotland’s west coast offers some of the best viewing and greatest diversity in the world. Base yourself in Tobermory on the Island of Mull, which is part of an island chain called the Hebrides in Argyll-Bute. From Glasgow, Tobermory is about 4 hours by car and ferry, and it’s well worth the ride. The area is revered for its mountains, forests, and beaches—on a coastline that stretches for more than 483km (300 miles).
After you arrive in town, stop by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (www.hwdt.org) on Main Street to get current information about what’s been most recently spotted at sea. According to the organization, “Of the 83 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) currently recognized in the world, 24 species have been recorded in the waters off the west coast of Scotland in recent years.” Sightings often include harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, killer whales, minke whales, humpback whales, and northern bottlenose whales.
To improve your chances of seeing these highly intelligent and communicative creatures in the wild, look for splashes—or waves that look like they’re breaking the wrong way. Also keep an eye out for extremely flat patches of water, which could be a sign that a cetacean just dived in there. Finally, pay attention to feeding seabirds. If lots of them are diving in one particular spot, it could mean that fish have been rounded up to the surface by a larger predator such as a minke whale, making it easy for the birds to dive in and enjoy a good meal. Meanwhile, you should have plenty to feast your eyes on as you scan the waters.
Tours: Sea Life Surveys, Leoaig, Tobermory ( 016/88-400-223; www.sealifesurveys.com). Silver Swift, Raraig House, Raraeric Rd., Tobermory ( 016/88-302-390; www.tobermoryboatcharters.co.uk).
When to Go: Apr–Sept.
$$$ Glengorm Castle, Tobermory ( 016/88-302-321; www.glengormcastle.co.uk). $$ Failte Guest House, Main St. (016/88-302-495; www.failteguesthouse.com).