The west coast of Scotland is a pretty incredible place. Wildlife and wildlife lovers alike flock to the Hebrides; the coastlines are a haven of natural wilderness, the skies filled with the cry of sea birds and in the seas lurk enigmatic and wondrous creatures. Within the waters around these shores whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks can be spotted.
Each site on The Hebridean Whale Trail is special and will offer a tantalising opportunity to spot some wondrous, yet elusive, sea creatures. The trail will take you to dramatic headlands and sea lochs, to white sandy beaches and bustling harbours.
The Hebrides are brimming with special places where land meets sea; where natural and cultural heritage are interwoven.
You might not make it to every site on the trail, but whether you spend some time exploring one of the areas or just dip-in to visit one site, this trail will take you to some truly incredible places and open your eyes to the mysterious world beneath the waves.
The sandy meadows along the coast are known as the Machair, and in spring wild flowers burst into bloom in rainbows of colour to chase away those winter blues. Excitement builds as we start to get a return of our traveling whales, will you spot the first minke of the year?
Endless days where the sun barely sets and the evening skies are filled with the calls of corncrakes. This is the busy season for the seas, as not just tourist flock to the Hebrides in summer, so do whales and dolphins spending long days feeding and frolicking in the waves.
Grey seals are pupping along the coast and migrating birds fill the skies. As the nights start to draw in the late sunny days feel even more precious, with warm(er) seas and the occasional invigorating storm. As the summer tails off so do some of our summer visitors like minke whales and common dolphins, but keeping a good look out might still result in something magical.
Dramatic skies and dramatic seas, the Atlantic batters the coast in winter and the waves crash over clifftops. On clear nights you might be treated to the stunning Northern Lights and the long nights are perfect for a wee dram by the fire. Our resident creatures, such as the harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphin or killer whale might be spotted on calm days so keep a weather eye out!
Why are they here?
While sightings of whales and dolphins can never be guaranteed, the Hebridean seas are exceptionally rich in wildlife.
Twenty-three species of whale, dolphin and porpoise, collectively known as cetaceans, have been recorded in Hebridean waters. That’s more than a quarter of all known cetacean species found worldwide.
The Hebrides is also an important area for other marine megafauna like basking sharks, seals and otters. Some of these species live here year-round whilst others migrate into our waters year after year. Rare and elusive species have been seen here too, which includes visitors like the fin whale.
The west coast of Scotland is incredibly biodiverse… but why?
Within the Hebrides, warm oceanic currents from the south and west, and offshoots from the Gulf Stream, mix with cool coastal currents. This, in combination with the complex bathymetry (underwater mountains and valleys) encourages mixing, forcing cold nutrient-rich waters up into the sunlit zone, where photosynthesis can occur, creating areas of high productivity. The plankton blooms off the west coast of Scotland are so extensive they can be seen from space!
The complex coastline also means there are a variety of habitats, from sheltered areas in the long sea lochs to fast tidal currents between islands, coastal and shelf waters and the open ocean of the Atlantic. Deep water close to the coast, such as in the sound of Raasay, brings offshore and deep-diving species close to the coast too.