The gulfstream waters that surround the island of Skye and the coast of Lochalsh, are clean, unpolluted and home to a wide diversity of marine life almost unrivalled worldwide. Indeed many areas are currently proposed for marine national park status.
Currently there are a number of Special Areas of Conservation protecting the habitat of the common seal colonies. Although the most timid of the local seal species their natural curiosity enables frequent sightings from both land and boat. They are particularly interesting in the summer months while nurturing their new born pups and encouraging them to swim. Grey Atlantic seals, with their dog like faces, are much less cautious and are often seen close to boats and in harbours.
Everyone hopes to spot whales, dolphins and porpoises of which there are frequent sightings in the months from May to September. Harbour porpoises, are common and often spotted within the sealochs. Bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and white sided dolphins are less frequently sited inshore, but occasional close-to and acrobatic sightings while chasing mackerel shoals delight onshore audiences. They are more commonly spotted in the bow wave and wake of boats, off headlands and in less enclosed water.
Of course, everyone's wish list has a whale sighting near the top. No matter how many whales you spot coasting lazily or boisterously breaching, every time puts a magical imprint in your memory.
Long finned pilot whales, northern bottlenose whales, and minke whales are the most common and can often be sited off headlands and from seacliffs, or from some of the boat excursions that go farther afield. Humpback whales and sperm whales are less regularly sited and even the occasional pod of orca!
With the warming of coastal waters in Britain generally, it's believed that basking sharks are moving north as their food source further south declines. In 2005, over 70% of British sightings were in the coastal waters of Western Scotland, particularly in the Hebrides. These timid and gentle giants cruise the coast, with their enormous gaping mouths swallowing and filtering tons of plankton rich water.
Otters are another species frequently sited on the island, and you just never know when you'll realize that an otter is watching you, watching it! Cautious but often cheeky, to watch them playing is delightful. As they tumble playfully on land like puppies, dive the clear waters while being watched from above, or spotted breaking shellfish open while sunbathing in the kelp, they are simply captivating.
Below the sea is a more beautiful than above! A technicolour of marine life awaits those lucky enough to glimpse below the water, with blankets of soft coral, spectacular anemones, shimmering shoals of fish often with a tropical look, tall kelp forests and much more. For those not able to see the depths of the sea, children and adults alike will find the tidal rock-pools on our often rocky shore fascinating. Catching hermit crabs, watching bright red sticky beadlet anemones catch a passing shrimp, watching the slippery butterfish vanish beneath a rock. It's simply amazing what life is happening in those calm little pools.
So keep your eyes open, marine sightings cannot be predicted but they will be unforgettable!