I was once in the car park at the Scottish Dolphin Centre and heard a grumble.
A bus trip had stopped for a visit and something had clearly been lost in translation as to what to expect.
You won’t get the chance to pet dolphins or watch them jump through hoops.
What you will find at the centre, beside Tugnet Ice House, Spey Bay (at the mouth of the River Spey), is one of the best places in Scotland to view dolphins from the land.
The Moray Firth is famous for its resident population of Bottlenose Dolphins.
Though the population (of about 200 dolphins) is based here, its members travel far and wide. The dolphins are individually named and some are easily identifiable. For example, Spirtle is marked by the remnants of sunburn from a stranding she survived a few years ago. Both she and other Moray Firth dolphins have been seen as far away as the south-west of Ireland.
This is the most northerly population of dolphins in the world. They are a hardy bunch and individuals are large in comparison to the average size for dolphins.
Entry to the Scottish Dolphin Centre is free of charge.
Salmon is part of the dolphin’s diet and it’s appropriate that the centre should be in a building adjacent to an ice house. This was used historically as a store for ice which was used to preserve salmon caught for human consumption.
The centre is run by volunteers.
It is owned by WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. WDC is the leading charity (Scottish Charity No. SC040231) dedicated to the protection of whales and dolphins. Their primary aim is to secure a world where every dolphin and whale is free and safe.
Among its attractions are:
- Film from animal observation cameras.
- A “dry” dive under the surface of the Moray Firth, providing an audio-visual experience of the sea depths.
- A cosy cafe.
From outside, whether you’re looking out to sea or across/into the mouth of the River Spey, there is a lot of wildlife on offer, including: dolphins; seals; jumping fish; osprey; and otters.
Guided walks are available through the centre or you can amuse yourself on the pebble beach, with views east towards the Bin of Cullen (hill) and west to Lossiemouth. The Speyside Way leads upstream on the River and a relatively short walk takes you to the Spey Viaduct and the pedestrian/bicycle track across to the other side at Garmouth. From the bridge, views inland (to the south) extend as far as Ben Rinnes.
Spey Bay is not the only land-based point from which to view dolphins in Moray.
Other possibilities include the headland viewing platform at Burghead (which has commanding views round more than 180 degrees), and the harbour walls at Hopeman and Lossiemouth.
Various options are available if you would like to go out on a ‘rib’ into the firth to seek out dolphins at other sea creatures close-up.