Dolphins, whales and porpoises and licensing

We can license surveys and research involving cetaceans as well as the possession of cetacean specimens for specific purposes.

All cetacean species in Scotland are given protection under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) as European protected species.

Most activities in the sea are unlikely to result in disturbance or risk of injury to cetaceans. But if injury or disturbance were likely to result from a particular activity, a licence would be required to carry out that activity legally.

Licences are only granted where there’s no satisfactory alternative. This is one of the three strict European protected species licensing tests that must be met.

How to apply

You should apply to us for a licence if you plan to carry out conservation work, survey or research in inshore waters, and that work could otherwise result in an offence in relation to cetaceans.

To apply for a licence for these purposes, or for possession of cetacean specimens for educational purposes, email [email protected].

You should include:

If this is your first licence application for this activity, we’ll need two references from you. Your referees should be familiar with your work in this area and able to vouch for your competence.

Responsibilities of other licensing authorities

Marine Scotland is responsible for licensing in relation to:

  • commercial activities
  • installing renewable energy devices in inshore waters
  • imperative reasons of overriding public interest that might affect cetaceans

The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the licensing authority for any activities in offshore waters that might otherwise constitute an offence in relation to cetaceans. Offshore waters lie 12 nautical miles or more from the coast.

Licence changes and renewals

You should get in touch if you wish to amend a licence. But check your licence conditions first: you may be able to appoint agents and assistants without having to get them named on your licence.

Find out about adding persons to a licence.

You must also remember to contact us to renew your licence. Licences aren’t renewed automatically.


If you already have a licence number, include it in the subject line of your email, or have it to hand when you call.

Licensing Team
Telephone: 01463 725 364
Email: [email protected]

Find out more

Data Protection notice

The protection of marine European Protected Species from injury and disturbance: Guidance for Scottish Inshore Waters

Last updated: