The big picture: Spey Bay, Moray Firth

Dolphins playing in Spey Bay, Moray FirthPhotograph by Charlie Phillips/WDC

The site where Scotland’s fastest river meets the dark waters of the Moray Firth is a dramatic place.

Spey Bay, an old salmon fishing village, is situated at the mouth of the mighty River Spey near Elgin. Famed for its role in the production of whisky, the Spey also provides salmon and trout for some of the most iconic marine wildlife in Scotland. Bottlenose dolphins, ospreys, seals and the elusive otter can all be seen fishing here during late spring and summer months.

It’s a popular place with people too, with many coming to enjoy a walk along the vast shingle beach – a feature so unique that the area has been granted SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) status. Regular visitors often keep an eye trained on the surrounding seas for the dorsal fins of resident bottlenose dolphins – part of a population of around 190 animals in the area. Equipped with extra blubber to keep them warm in the cold Scottish seas, these individuals are the largest of their kind in the world.

Late spring and summer tend to bring the most sightings; some visitors may even be lucky enough to watch the dolphins as they toss large salmon up into the air before swallowing them whole.

Ospreys are also a common sight in the bay, returning from a long migration to West Africa in April. The characteristic bending of the wing in an osprey’s flight makes them easier to spot among the circling gulls, but the real excitement comes when they dive into the river to catch fish. The patient visitor may also spot otters swimming at dusk and dawn.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Scottish Dolphin Centre is situated at the river mouth where visitors can enjoy guided walks and tours of the historic Tugnet icehouse, built in the 1830s and used to store freshly caught salmon before shipping. The team at the centre also run Shorewatch, a dolphin monitoring programme which volunteers can participate in, while local school children also visit to enjoy outdoor activities and beach cleans.

The Moray Firth’s marine life provides spectacular wildlife watching opportunities. Along the coast it is possible to see minke whales filter feeding on sprat and mackerel, harbour porpoises swimming with their characteristic rolling motion and many seabirds, including plunge-diving gannets and nesting puffins, all in what is a truly beautiful part of Scotland.

Ali Jordan
Manager, Scottish Dolphin Centre, Whale and Dolphin Conservation

Getting there

(Google map) The Scottish Dolphin Centre lies half way between Inverness and Aberdeen. Turn off the A96 onto the B9014, between Mosstodloch and Fochabers, following the brown tourism sign for Wildlife Centre.

Admission is free. For opening times, visit

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