A spectacular new trail – launched by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust – is to showcase Scotland’s west coast as a world-class destination for spotting whales, dolphins and porpoises.
The Hebridean Whale Trail, the first of its kind in the UK, is a unique initiative connecting more than 30 top places offering opportunities for land-based sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises, or showcasing important whale heritage sites that reveal the history of people’s relationships with whales in these communities.
Basking sharks, seals and other wildlife may also be seen from the trail, which features 33 sites across the Hebridean archipelago and along Scotland’s stunning west coast, from the Clyde to Cape Wrath, and as far west as St Kilda.
These include lighthouses at the Butt of Lewis on the Isle 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 such as the Oa on Islay.
Karl Stevens, Hebridean Whale Trail Manager, says: “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.
“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.”
The aims are also to boost the local economy and support communities through sustainable eco-tourism, provide educational opportunities, and improve 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 www.whaletrail.org includes routes, transport options and site details. On-site interpretation at key locations will explain which species of cetaceans – the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises – might be seen.
Across the trail there will be many opportunities for visitors and residents to get involved in marine conservation activities – including joining volunteers to watch, identify and record marine wildlife from land or the ferries which connect the sites, as well as discovering more about Scotland’s seas from experts at a range of visitor centres.
Alison Lomax, Director of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, said: “The trail encourages accessible, low-impact whale-watching from land, which for many is a completely new way of thinking about viewing marine wildlife.
“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.