Thanks to the launch of the United Kingdom’s first dolphin and whale trail, which debuted on June 28, 2019, travelers to Scotland can now journey between 33 designated sites on the country’s west coast to spot marine wildlife from land. Known as the Hebridean Whale Trail, the venture is the result of a two-year development project from the Scottish conservation group Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, which has worked for more than 20 years to preserve marine mammals.
“Ultimately we want people to experience the thrill of watching a fin breaking the surface in the distance, and the challenge of identifying which type of whale they’ve seen, sharing that experience with others, and learning about the threats these animals face in our seas,” said Alison Lomax, director of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, in a press release from the organization.
Navigating the Hebridean Whale Trail website—and figuring out what to look for in the water—is fairly straightforward. To start your research, choose a section of the Hebrides archipelago: Lewis and Harris, Uist and Barra, North West Highlands, Skye and the Small Isles, Inner Hebrides, or the Southern Hebrides and Clyde. Then, click into one of the 33 specific destination on the online map, where you can find transit directions, information about accessibility, and things you may see offshore. For instance, look for humpback whales off of Gallan Head on the Isle of Lewis, or bottlenose dolphins in Lamlash Bay on the Isle of Arran. (Note: Because the sites are spread across multiple islands and Scotland’s west coast mainland, visitors would be wise to sketch out their route before they hit the ground.)
Of course, whale, porpoise, and dolphin sightings are never guaranteed, but your odds are pretty good in Scotland: More than one quarter of all whale and dolphin species have been documented in the country’s western region, according to the same press release. The best time to try to spot them? From May to September.
For up-to-date whale-spotting activity, download the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s free app, Whale Track, which has a live sightings map and whale and dolphin ID guide; it lets users report their own sightings.
Scotland’s whale trail isn’t the only one in the world: the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism’s Massachusetts Whale Trail incorporates 38 destinations across the state, for example, and New Zealand’s own forthcoming Whale Trail lets users follow whales’ migration patterns down the east coast of the country’s South Island.
This article was originally published on July 3, 2019.
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Katherine LaGrave Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at AFAR focused on features and essays.