Marine environment

Marine mammals


The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 includes significant changes to current seal legislation. More information is available in the seal licensing pages.

The Act also allowed Scottish Ministers to provide additional protection for seals at designated haul-outs - the locations on land where seals come ashore to rest.

Under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2010, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has a duty to provide scientific advice to the Scottish Government on matters related to the management of seal populations. NERC has appointed the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) to formulate this advice.

This advice is given annually based on the latest scientific information provided to SCOS by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU). SMRU also provides to government scientific reviews of applications for licences to shoot seals, along with information and advice in response to parliamentary questions and correspondence.

A Scottish Seals Forum brought together stakeholders with an interest in seal issues. The Forum provided an opportunity to inform the conservation and management of Scottish seal populations.

Cetaceans: whales, dolphins and porpoises

All cetaceans are protected under the EU Habitats Directive, which makes it an offence to deliberately capture, kill or recklessly disturb cetaceans. A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has been established in the Moray Firth to protect the local population of Bottlenose dolphins.

The Scottish Government has produced guidance for marine users on the Protection of European Protected Species from injury and disturbance for Scottish Inshore Waters.

The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 contained provisions for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to create a Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code which sets out recommendations, advice and information relating to commercial and leisure activities involving the watching of marine wildlife.

We work with partners to ensure a co-ordinated approach, including:

Royal fish

In July 1999, the Scottish Government became responsible (on behalf of the Crown) for dealing with 'Royal Fish' found stranded on Scottish shores. In Scotland, these are considered to be those stranded whales measuring more than 25 feet long from the snout to the middle of the tail.

The local coastguard should notify Marine Scotland of any Royal Fish providing, wherever possible, details of the size and species of whale involved. It should also inform the Scottish Agricultural College's Veterinary Section in Inverness (which records all cetacean strandings around Scotland and which may wish to undertake a post-mortem) and the appropriate Local Authority Environmental Health Department, which will consider whether there is a need to make arrangements for the disposal of the carcass.

Guidance on how to deal with stranded Royal Fish is available and further information on cetacean strandings in general can be obtained at the Natural History Museum website.

Other information

Marine mammal research programme

Reporting stranded marine animals

In the case of finding a dead or stranded marine animal, call 07979 245 893 or email: and, if possible, provide the following information:

  • date found
  • location (grid reference if possible)
  • photographs of the animal
  • species or description
  • overall length (estimation)
  • condition of the animal
  • your contact details

Rescue for live stranded marine animals is available 24 hours a day by calling Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline (03000 999 999) or British Divers Marine Life Rescue (01825 765 546).

If you see a dead seal on the shore, please report it to one of the groups listed below or report it to the local RSPCA/SSPCA. Unless you are experienced and equipped to deal with large dead animals, it would be unwise to handle a dead seal. If possible, send photographs of the carcass and close-ups of any obvious injuries to:

(1) Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU):

(2) Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS):

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