Protected species: dolphins, whales and porpoises

Dolphins, whales and porpoises, known collectively as cetaceans, are given the highest possible protection in Scottish inshore waters.

There is no change to the protection of European protected species as a result of EU Exit.

All cetacean species found in Scottish territorial waters are classed as European protected species. They are given protection under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).

Cetaceans in waters more than 12 nautical miles from land are protected under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 2017.

You can see our summary of offences in relation to these protected species below. For the definitive list of offences, you should consult the actual legislation.

Discover more about cetaceans found in Scottish waters.

Offences: dolphins, whales and porpoises

In Scottish inshore waters, it is an offence to deliberately or recklessly:

  • kill, injure or capture a cetacean
  • disturb or harass a cetacean

It is also an offence to:

  • damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal 
  • keep, transport, sell or exchange, or offer for sale or exchange any cetacean (or any part or derivative of one) obtained after 10 June 1994


Licensing allows named individuals to carry out actions that could otherwise constitute an offence. If you’re planning any activities in the sea that could injure or disturb a cetacean, you must make sure you stay within the law.

Find out about licensing for dolphins, whales and porpoises.

Find out more

Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code

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


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

01463 725364

[email protected]

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