A new whale trail has been launched by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to help showcase Scotland’s West Coast as a world-class destination for spotting whales, dolphins and porpoises.
The Hebridean Whale Trail, which is the first of its kind in the UK, is a unique initiative connecting more than 30 locations which offer opportunities for land-based sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises, or showcase important whale heritage sites which reveal the history of people’s relationships with the marine mammals in local communities.
Basking sharks, seals and other wildlife can also be seen from the trail, which features 33 sites across the Hebridean archipelago and along Scotland’s West Coast, from the Clyde to Cape Wrath and as far west as St Kilda.
Sites include lighthouses at the Butt of Lewis, Eilean Glas on the Isle of Scalpay, and the UK mainland’s most westerly point at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse.
Beaches include Clachtoll in the Highlands, and Huisinis on the Isle of Harris. Bustling harbours include Tobermory on the Isle of Mull and Ullapool.
The trail ranges from easily accessible attractions, such as the Hebridean Whale Trail Centre in Tobermory to remote and wild destinations including the Oa on Islay.
“Scotland’s west coast is one of Europe’s best places to catch sight of whales, dolphins and porpoises from land – and you may see bottlenose and common dolphins, harbour porpoise, minke whales and killer whales,” says Karl Stevens, Hebridean Whale Trail Manager.
“We want people from all walks of life to visit the Hebridean Whale Trail to enjoy exploring the region’s unique nature, culture and history, and to be inspired to support marine conservation.”
It’s hoped the project will also help to boost the local economy and support communities via sustainable eco-tourism, educational opportunities, and improved connections between coastal areas.
David Adams McGilp, VisitScotland Regional Director, said: “Scotland’s Hebrides offer captivating views, endless beaches, ancient history, the finest fresh food and of course, wonderful wildlife. The Hebridean Whale Trail is a clever initiative, which presents visitors with an unrivalled opportunity to explore the best of Scotland’s marine wildlife and seascapes.
“The launch of this new trail is particularly apt as we prepare for the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 – a year-long programme of events and activities which will shine a spotlight on Scotland’s coasts and waters. It’s particularly pleasing that the trail is a conservation-based tourism product, as a key focus of the themed year will be celebrating and protecting Scotland’s beautiful natural environment.”
The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has spent a year developing the trail – identifying sites with communities, site owners, conservation organisations, schools, and businesses.
The trail’s website features routes, transport options and site details, while on-site markers explain which species of cetaceans – the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises – might be seen.
There are also lots of opportunities for visitors and residents to get involved in marine conservation activities, including joining volunteers to watch, identify and record marine wildlife from the land or ferries which connect the sites, as well as discovering more about Scotland’s seas from experts at a range of visitor centres.
“The trail encourages accessible, low-impact whale-watching from land, which for many is a completely new way of thinking about viewing marine wildlife,” says Alison Lomax, who is the director of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.
“Scotland’s west coast is dotted with stunning places where you can quietly watch whales, dolphins, and other wildlife going about their business from a clifftop or harbour.
“Ultimately we want people to experience the thrill of watching a fin breaking the surface in the distance, and the challenge of identifying which type of whale they’ve seen, sharing that experience with others, and learning about the threats these animals face in our seas.”
While sightings of cetaceans can never be guaranteed, the Hebridean seas are exceptionally rich in wildlife. More than a quarter of the world’s whale and dolphin species have been recorded in the region – including many national and international conservation priority species.
The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is based on the Isle of Mull and has been helping to conserve cetaceans off the West Coast of Scotland for more than 20 years.
The Hebridean Whale Trail has been made possible by a grant of neary £200k by the UK Government-funded Coastal Communities Fund, which is delivered by The National Lottery Community Fund.