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Dancing with Dolphins on the Black Isle
The Bottlenose Dolphins of the Black Isle
The Black Isle is actually not an island at all. It is a peninsular, north east of Inverness, on Scotland's east coast surrounded on three sides by the Cromarty Firth, the Beauly Firth and the Moray Firth.
About 23 miles long and dotted with small towns and hamlets, castles, beaches and wonderful scenery it has become renowned for its colony of dolphins. And these bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth, up to 150 in all, can often be observed at close quarters from the shore.
Read on to find out where more.
A firsthand account - the day we saw the dolphins
We had come to see the dolphins. It was a beautiful clear sunny day and we were walking along the sands of a gently curving bay. Waves, pushed on by the breeze, were breaking and washing up onto the beach as we headed for the tip of a pebble promontory to a point where the land narrowed and jutted out into the cold waters of the Moray Firth. On the opposite shore stood Fort George with its stone walls and imposing artillery defences surrounding a collection of stone buildings, a stark reminder of violent times past and the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie. However, we had not come to visit former historical glories, but the natural wonders - dolphins.
We were not alone on the beach and in front of us stood the 'watchers'. A group of well over a hundred people standing silently on the shingle bank close to the waters edge. Slightly further back stood a line of tripods mounted with cameras and fitted with long lenses waiting expectantly, almost like alien beings pointing towards the water. As we moved closer arms were pointed, binoculars raised, as the watchers looked to the waters. Suddenly an excited shout went up, followed by a chorus of 'ooohs, and aaaahs'. There were dolphins in the waves.
The ballet was about to begin and no more than 20 to 30 feet away from where we were standing. The offshore breeze had stiffened and was whipping the sea into small waves crested with white foam. The waves, caught by the low rays of sun light, seemed to come alive, rippling and dancing, sparkling and glistening, urging the performance to begin.
A fin burst through the surface of the choppy waters, followed by another and then another. Flashes of grey, silver and black against the backdrop of the sea. Bottle-nosed dolphins; their graceful bodies arching upwards and slicing cleanly through the waves. Groups of two or three dolphins swimming together, side by side, and one behind the other, all seemingly grinning at their audience of onlookers gathered on the shore. A fluked tail flicked and beat at the surface and disappeared into the depths. Suddenly a dolphin leapt completely clear of the water, falling back with a splash. Then another shows off his acrobatic skills, twisting and turning upwards out of the water as if to outdo his rival. Majestically the dolphins glide past effortlessly performing their ballet of the sea. Alas, all too soon the show is over and the waters fall still again. An appreciative audience makes their way back along the beach. What a gala performance we have witnessed.
Dancing with dolphins. Surely nature at its spectacular best. .
Fortrose and Rosemarkie
Where to see them
One of the best vantage points is at Chanonry Point, midway between Fortrose and Rosemarkie, 20 miles to the north east of Inverness.
Please note, however, it is a popular and well known destination from which to see the dolphins so close to shore and although there is a car park there are times when the road leading to the car park and the car park itself can get very busy.
'Dolphin watch' boat trips are available from several locations along the coast, and accommodation and other services can be found at the nearby small towns of Fortrose and Rosemarkie.
About the author
Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.
Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.
His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.
© 2011 Antony J Waller