The Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland consist of around 100 islands. About 35 of the islands are inhabited. Some of the best wildlife in the whole of the UK is located within these islands. An example of this, are the many operators that now offer Whale and Dolphin watching around the Inner hebrides. These islands are one of the best location for Whale watching in the whole of Europe and the islands are home to their own unique pod of Orcas (Killer Whales). On the Isle of Mull alone, there are several companies that offer whale watching tours, such as Sea Life Surveys and Whale Watch With Us. If you are lucky, you may even see Dolphins and Seals when travelling on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries between the islands.
Sightings of otters are common on Mull and also on the Isle of Skye, often swimming in the sea, in secluded bays or scavenging along the shoreline. Eilean Ban is a tiny six acre island that supports the bridge to the Isle of Skye. It was from here that Gavin Maxwell, author of ‘Ring of Bright Water”, lived in the cottage for the last two years of his life in the late 1960s. The island now has a Visitors Centre and also has a Lighthouse, nature trails, a wildlife hide and a sensory garden. It is well worth a detour to visit Eilean Ban, as most people drive by without realising that the island is underneath the bridge. Otters can often be seen at nearby Glenelg on the mainland as well as at a Hide in Kylerhea. Throughout the Inner Hebrides, there have unfortunately been a number of otters killed on the roads and ‘otter crossing’ signs have now been introduced.
Although Gavin Maxwell was a conservationist, he also bought the island of Soay, just off the coast of Skye and in 1946 established a factory to process oil from Basking Sharks. The business was unsuccessful and lasted only three years. It is possible to visit Soay (and the remains of the Basking Shark Station) with Aqua Explore, who are based at Elgol on Skye. Basking Sharks are a common sight around the Hebrides. I have visited the uninhabited island of Staffa several times and on one occasion a Basking Shark swam so close to the boat that I was able to see it’s massive form underwater, from just a few metres away. Sightings of minke, humpback, fin, pilot and sperm whales are all possible and it is usually relatively easy to see common and grey seals.
The UK’s biggest raptor is the White Tailed Eagle, which has a wingspan of over 8 feet. The eagles became extinct in Scotland in 1918. They were re-introduced to the island of Rum in 1975 and there are currently about 60 pairs dotted around Scotland. Once again, the Isle of Mull is the best place to see the eagles, as there are around 13 pairs based on the island. One of the best places to see them is at a Hide at Glen Seilisdeir.
The Isle of Canna has been recognised as a bird sanctuary since 1938, and supports over 20,000 breeding seabirds, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots. The islands of Islay and Jura are internationally renowned for over fifty thousand wild geese that visit each winter from October to April. Also on Jura, islanders are outnumbered 30 to 1 by the 6-7000 red deer that roam the island.
There are many, many species of birds within the Inner Hebrides. Probably the most well known are the Puffins that are located on Lunga, one of the Treshnish Isles. Turus Mara and Staffa Tours operate day trips to the Treshnish Isles (and nearby Staffa), the highlight of which are visiting the Puffins. A couple of hours ashore on Lunga, could melt the stoniest heart!
As well as the larger wildlife that can be seen from around the Hebrides, it is also possible to take a look at microscopic organisms when crusing aboard the St Hilda. St Hilda’s guests are able to use the onboard microscopes to examine the spectacular underwater world of microscopic plankton that have been collected earlier on by dragging a very fine-meshed net from behind the boat. Click the link for the latest cruises with St Hilda Sea Adventures.
One of the best series that showcased the fantastic wildlife in the Hebrides was entiltled – Hebrides: Life on the Edge. In the course of a year, otters, dolphins, eagles, seals and many other charismatic creatures were filmed by some of the greatest wildlife camera talent in the world. This landmark wildlife series, was narrated by Ewan McGregor and was a critical success.
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All photos courtesy of St Hilda Sea Adventures.