Newest Review: ... at both villages, if you are travelling by public transport. From either village it is a short walk to the start of Chanonry Point,... more
Come and see the dolphins of the Moray Firth
Chanonry Point (Scotland)
Member Name: markos9
Chanonry Point (Scotland)
Advantages: Get really close to the dolphins.
Disadvantages: No facilities on site.
The bottlenose dolphin is one of the largest and most charismatic mammals that can be found around the British Isles. They grow to a length of 13 feet, and can weigh up to an astonishing 1,400lbs!
Bottlenose dolphins are reasonably common around our shores, especially in the South and West, but can be difficult to spot. They are frequently encountered well away from the shore, often following fishing boats. Anyone wanting to see a dolphin has a small chance of seeing one in calm weather by watching for its telltale dorsal fin rising out of the water and hearing them 'blow' as they breathe.
To stand an excellent chance of seeing a dolphin, however, you need to visit one of the famous dolphin watching points around the British Isles. Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the spot that gives you the best chance of getting close to these large mammals is Chanonry Point.
Chanonry Point lies at the end of Chanonry Ness a spit jutting out into the Moray Firth, near the town of Rosemarkie. The Moray Firth is narrowest at the point and strong tides rush past this finger of sand in the sea.
A pod of bottlenose dolphins are resident in the Moray Firth; they feed on the fish of the firth, particularly migrating salmon. As the strong tides rush through the narrows, the fish are concentrated into a reasonably small area, and that's where the dolphins catch them.
Due to the narrowness of the firth at the point, it is actually possible to get within a few yards of these magnificent animals!
The best time to visit is just before to just after high tide (check www.easytide.co.uk to ensure you get there at the right time). The dolphins will probably need little searching for; you'll see them 'breaching' as they breathe, swimming past, unconcerned at the crowd of people watching their every move.
Occasionally, you'll be treated to the spectacle of a dolphin jumping clear of the water; this amazes me! This sort of sight is expected whilst watching wildlife programmes showing exotic locations, not from the shore in Britain!
If you want to photograph the dolphins, be aware that it's quite a challenge. You can never know where a dolphin will surface so a reasonably fast 200-300mm lens, preferably connected to a digital SLR will give you the best chance to catch that magical wildlife moment.
I found the best technique was to look for a dolphin breaching, note the direction, then track the general area ready to press the shutter frenziedly at the first sign of another surfacing. My success rate wasn't brilliant, but I DID get some great shots!
Apart from the dolphins, there's plenty of other wildlife to watch. Grey seals are common here. They often come close to shore, put their heads out of the water, and stare intently at the visitors to their watery world.
During the summer, the air above the water at the head of the firth will be filled with seabirds (binoculars are best to see them due to the distance). Gannets can be seen 'plunge diving', whilst terns can be seen fishing in a more delicate manner. The piratical arctic skua may also be present; locking on to the terns like a guided missile, chasing them until they drop their fish, then diving down to claim their prize.
If you're visiting Chanonry Point, it's worth knowing that there are no facilities on site (not even toilets). There is a reasonably large car park, but this gets quickly filled to capacity on a nice day. An ice cream van may be parked there selling drinks as well as ice cream.
The point has little in the way of shelter and is extremely exposed, even on a nice day. Make sure you pack sun cream if the sky's clear, and warm clothing in case the weather changes. Fortunately, the walk from the car park to the point takes only a minute so equipment can be easily fetched from the car if required.
I've visited Chanonry Point several times now, and never failed to see the dolphins (on two occasions, they were visible as soon as we got out of the car!). Seeing these wonderful animals at such close quarters is a magical experience that most people would enjoy. Children, especially love seeing them and, on a busy day, the point will echo with "oohs" and "aahs" as the dolphins 'perform' in front of the crowd. If you're visiting the Inverness area, then Chanonry Point is well worth a visit. Just remember to check the high tide times.
Summary: Best place to watch dolphins from the shore in Britain