Project Background

About the Bottlenose Dolphin Tourism Project


Bottlenose DolphinThe bottlenose dolphin population resident within the Moray Firth has been a source of interest to local residents and tourists for many years, and individuals and groups from the dolphin population travel extensively around the east coast of Scotland. Dolphin sightings have been recorded at a number of locations, and the total population is estimated to be around 130 individuals. This is the most northerly resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the world and is considered as “vulnerable” due to it being at the northernmost part of its range, due to the small population size and being isolated from other populations.

Bottlenose dolphins are recognised as a major tourism asset in North East Scotland. Every year thousands of people take a dolphin watching boat trip with one of 11 wildlife cruise operators in the Moray Firth and/or visit the WDCS Wildlife Centre in Spey Bay, the North Kessock Dolphin and Seal Centre or other land based watching sites in the hope of spotting dolphins. The Aberdeenshire coast has a number of recognised dolphin watching hotspots, and dolphin watching is also developing in the Tay area. In a recent VisitScotland survey the bottlenose dolphins came out as the top tourist attraction Scotland.

Tourism in general and nature based tourism specifically is expected to increase in Scotland in the near future. VisitScotland is aiming for a 50% increase in tourism revenue by 2015, to be achieved by about 2% volume growth per year, longer stays and increased spend per visitor. Wild Scotland, the Scottish association of wildlife tour operators, is marketing Scotland as Europe’s Number 1 wildlife destination.

Despite the importance of dolphin based tourism, until this current survey was commissioned by the MFP, only one small study had been undertaken to investigate the economic value of this "Moray Firth" dolphin population to the tourism industry. Hoyt (2001) estimated that in total land and boat-based whale and dolphin-watching in the Moray Firth attracted 73,000 tourists, generated £477,000 as direct expenditure and £2.34 million in total expenditure in 1998.

This new study, entitled "The Value of Tourism Expenditure related to the East of Scotland Bottlenose Dolphin Population", is an important and timely update on the significant economic as well as natural heritage value of the bottlenose dolphin population, and will be of value to a range of organisations involved in future marine planning and tourism initiatives.

This report complements the findings of the Scottish Government’s recent research report, 'The Economic Impact of Wildlife Tourism in Scotland' issued in June 2010. This shows the net economic impact of all wildlife tourism in Scotland is around £65 million, supporting around 2,760 jobs. Around £15 million of this is estimated to relate to marine wildlife tourism, and a further £24 million to coastal tourism including shore-based watching activities. This highlights the importance of coastal and marine tourism to Scotland, and the significance of bottlenose dolphins to both these sectors.

The production of this report was supported and funded by Aberdeenshire Council, Angus Council, Dundee City Council, Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, Highland Council, Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage, with in kind support from a range of organisations including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Following the launch of the report on 4 October 2010, funders and other key stakeholders will meet to consider the findings of the report and issues arising in terms of the sustainable development of bottlenose dolphin tourism initiatives, and to consider any initiatives that might be taken forward on a cross-area basis. This could include the development of land-based watching initiatives that will help promote local coastal trails, such as the North Sea Trail / Moray Firth Trail.