Police warning not to disturb Moray Firth dolphins and other marine life
Police Scotland is urging the public to respect marine wildlife off the Moray Firth and Highland coastline.
Incidents in recent years have included private boat operators getting too close to pods of pilot whales near Kessock Bridge at Inverness, and kite surfers and other private boat users allegedly disturbing dolphins feeding at Chanonry Point and beyond.
Those that choose to disturb cetaceans - such as dolphins, whales or porpoises - risk criminal charges and more importantly risk injuring the animals or worse.
The Highlands and Islands have several viewpoints to watch dolphins with Chanonry Point near Fortrose being the most popular in the Moray Firth.
There was a fall in incidents last year after a poster campaign urging visitors not to disturb the marine life.
However, a number of incidents were still reported in the area and partner agencies are looking to build on last year’s success.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1994.
This includes protection from disturbance - whether it be reckless or deliberate - harassment, killing and injury, with fines of up to £5,000.
Wildlife Crime Liaison officer Constable Daniel Sutherland said: "I am pleased that there has been a reduction in the number of reported incidents of cetacean disturbance in the last year.
"But it is important that we continue to raise awareness of the issue to help prevent criminal incidents occurring.
"It is also important that members of the public continue to report any concerns they may have by calling 101 so we can take prompt action if an incident does happen.
"There is generally an increase in the number marine craft operating around Scotland’s coast during the summer months and this naturally leads to an increase in the likelihood of an encounter with a cetacean.
"I understand that people want the best possible sightings, sometimes for a good photo and often simply for the experience of being close to these amazing creatures.
"I do not want to discourage this but I want to make sure people do so responsibly with respect for the wildlife.
"We strongly recommend that anyone watching marine wildlife keeps their distance and follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code.
"This offers practical guidance for everyone who watches marine wildlife around Scotland, whether they are on the shore or at sea – and will help you stay within the law."
Alice Walters, Whale and Dolphin Conservation policy officer, said: "Our key aim is to stop disturbance before it happens by raising awareness of the issues.
"Significant human disturbance, or harassment, is illegal and can drive dolphins from the places that are important for them.
"Everyone is excited to encounter whales and dolphins.
"Social media interest, particularly around unusual sightings such as orca, humpbacks and the Thames beluga nicknamed 'Benny', can draw crowds of people, all hoping to get a close view.
"They can be unaware of how to behave around them, so most disturbance is unintentional.
"A good encounter is one that is enjoyable for you and the whales or dolphins."