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Protected species: dolphins, whales and porpoises

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

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 2007.

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 marine mammals found in Scottish waters.

Offences: dolphins, whales and porpoises

In Scottish inshore waters, it is an offence to intentionally 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 (whether or not deliberately or recklessly)
  • 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

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.

Learn more about licensing.

Cruise operators in the Moray Firth should also view the Dolphin Space Programme Codes of Conduct on the Dolphin Space Programme website.

Find out more

Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code

Protected species known to occur naturally in Scotland and their protection