There are bottlenose dolphins across much of the world's oceans. But the Scottish ones live around the species northern limit, and are the largest of the lot. The only resident group of these powerful mammals in the North Sea travels the waters between the Moray Firth and the Firth of Forth and there are other small resident groups, plus visitors from the open ocean, around the Hebrides.
What to look for
If you see a muscular, dark-skinned back - about a couple of metres long and with an upright 'dorsal' (top of the back) fin breaking the sea surface - it could be a bottlenose dolphin. Bottlenoses often move in groups, so keep looking and you could see more. They're fast movers and it's not unusual for some of a group to leap from the water or make big splashes as they feed or interact with each other.
The pattern of marks (some caused by the teeth of other dolphins) on the dorsal fin is unique to that individual. By building-up a gallery of fin photos, zoologists can recognise individuals and estimate the size of a local population, such as the 130-strong group in the Moray Firth.
The hotspot for Scottish bottlenose watching is the Moray Firth especially in the summer. A good place to see dolphins close to the shore is Chanonry Point near Fortrose. Dolphin and Seal Trips in Avoch and Nairn. To find out more about dolphins and the wildlife of the area visit the Moray Firth Wildlife Centre in Spey Bay.