Bottlenose Dolphins at Chanonry Point

I have been meaning to visit Chanonry Point, to see the Dolphins that are famous for coming really close to shore, for several years. But for one reason or another I have never made it before last week. A week in a camper van with my wife in late July provided a fairly open opportunity and it was one of the first things we slotted into our plans.

We aimed to arrive at the end of Chanonry Point about an hour after low tide. The Bottlenose Dolphins are known to chase fish into the bay and use the combination of the long spit of land and the tide currents to pin the fish. A rising tide starting about an hour after low-tide is the ideal time. A healthy population of about 200 Bottlenose Dolphins live in and around the Moray Firth so sightings are quite regular.

We took the walk from the centre of Fortrose rather than drive out and park in the pay and display carpark at the end. Chanonry Point has become very popular in recent years and parking can be a problem especially for a camper van so allowing time to walk out removes another potential issue.

I estimate there were about 100 people gathered hoping the dolphins would show when we arrived. It certainly wasn’t quiet but nor was it overcrowded as the split of shingle was long enough for us to spread out. After about 30 minutes or so some people started to drift away.

I took some time to photograph the Common Terns flying past and Herring Gull loafing nearby.

About an hour and 45 minutes after low tide I was delighted to see a distant fin break the water betraying an approaching dolphin. The crowd murmured with excitement and subconsciously moved down to the shore.

Before long, we were having excellent views of a mother and calf less than 10 meters away. Adult Bottlenose Dolphins grow up to 4 meters long and are mostly dark in colour, the calves are shorter and much lighter in colour. These two dolphins stayed close to the shore where the rising tide met the current of the river for the next hour or so.

Before long some other dolphins joined the show further out but moving much faster with more energy. These were chasing fish, mostly Salmon, which provided a great meal for the effort. As well as catching and eating the Salmon they would also appear to play with the fish, throwing them into the air and catching them. Sometimes this is to train younger dolphins how to hunt but sometimes it appears to be just for fun. I guess Dolphins aren’t taught not to play with their food.

The show continued for about 2 hours and at one point a particularly active dolphin kept jumping out of the water. This was a good opportunity to practice my photography. You had to guess where the Dolphin would appear and be ready to take a burst of photos as soon as it reappeared. I was positioned low down on the shore, knelt down, to try and get a more interesting background, risking getting wet knees from the incoming tide. After taking a lot of photos of disappearing tail flukes I captured this shot which I was fairly happy with.

All in all I would recommend a trip to Chanonry Point if you are around the Black Isle. Wildlife encounters are often distant and brief and this was certainly special in being close up and sustained for a couple of hours. I think it would be a great place to go for a picnic with children and hope for the best.

Below is a brief video showing how close the Dolphins come to the shore. I hope you are able to enjoy the Moray Firth Dolphins and join the watching crowd soon.

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