Image: a grey seal pup and its mother

Four fifths of harbour seals are found in Scottish waters

Grey seals pup on the area’s remote beaches in the autumn while harbour (also known as common) seals are found in sheltered waters within the Hope Spot.

The Isle of Lismore is a European Special Area for Conservation for its harbour seals, which pup on offshore skerries.


Image: Eileanan agus Sgeirean Lios Mòr Special Area for Conservation

Harbour Porpoise

Phocoena phocoena


Image: David Ainsley 


Priority Marine Feature


Etymology: compound of porcus (pig) and piscus (fish)


Weight: 45kg


Age: 12-20 years

The Hope Spot is also a whale and dolphin hotspot, with resident bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises seen regularly in the Sound of Mull and Sound of Jura. The bottlenose dolphins are part of a local population called the Inner Hebrides community, consisting of 35 identified animals. You can also see short-beaked common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, Minke whales, humpback whales and European otters.


Harbour porpoise are the smallest and most abundant cetacean in Scottish waters. The Inner Hebrides and the Minches candidate SAC was submitted to the European Commission in September 2016, to protect the porpoises in this region.


The Minke whale is the smallest and most common of the baleen whales in Scotland, growing up to 8.5m long. They are most often spotted between July and September but are sometimes present all year round.


The otter was lost from almost all of England; Wales between the 1950s-1970s, due to pollution of the waterways with pesticides but they survived in Scotland’s seas and rivers. The Scottish population is now estimated to be up to 8000 otters. The largest threats to otters include road accidents and commercial eel fishing. Young otters are occasionally trapped in creels set for crustaceans.

Current Research
The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust carries out research, including acoustic harbour porpoise surveys which have helped build the evidence for a new Marine Protected Area. It also works to prevent large whale entanglement, monitors Scotland’s killer whales and Minke whales and tracks Hebridean bottlenose dolphins. Look out for the Hebridean Whale Trail, coming soon, and its Whale Track App.

Whales and dolphins can become entangled in nets, ropes and lines. A fifth of Hebridean Minke whales have scars from entanglement, which is the single largest cause of death in Minke whales in Scottish waters (40% of mortalities).


Pollution in the water can build up in the blubber in whales and dolphins. This is the largest threat to the West Coast killer whale community, as only 8 killer whales remain in the group.


Cetaceans can also be injured by ship strikes and disturbed by noise pollution from marine traffic, acoustic deterrent devices on fish farms and seismic testing for oil and gas.


Porpoises are vulnerable to by-catch in trawling gear. St Andrews University is carrying out research to determine how to design nets which will not catch porpoise. Under Scottish law it is illegal to disturb any cetacean, recklessly or deliberately.



Get Involved
Please report your cetacean (and basking shark) sightings to HWDT.


The Whale Track App provides an easy way to submit sightings from across the west coast of Scotland.


If you are a creel fisherman and would like to learn more about the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA) project or get involved in this, or if you ever come across an animal entangled in your gear, please contact the SEA project coordinator Ellie MacLennan on 01463 246048, 07393 798153 or at