DSP Codes of Conduct

There are currently two DSP codes of conduct for wildlife tour operators in the Moray Firth - one for the inner firth area and another for the outer firth area. The reason for this is that the inner Moray Firth is a more enclosed area and is subject to higher volumes of vessel traffic than the outer Moray Firth. The use of the inner Moray Firth by bottlenose dolphins has been studied extensively and there are several areas of particular importance, including at the Cromarty Sutors, Chanonry and Kessock. The deep water, narrow channels at the entrance to firths (Inverness, Beauly and Cromarty) are important feeding grounds. Due to the sensitive nature of these areas, the inner firth code is more proscriptive than the outer firth code and requires operators to agree to additional guidelines regarding access to and use of these sensitive areas. 

The aim of the code is to ensure that any interaction is under the dolphins' control and they may approach or leave the vicinity of the boat at any time,without being pursued.

The conditions that apply to DSP accredited operators are regularly reviewed to ensure they are still adequate to protect the dolphin population.  For more information and a copy of the full code, please email:  info@morayfirth-partnership.org.  The following is an extract of key points.  

Basic Code of Conduct

  1. Dolphins should be approached from the side using a converging approach (see diagrams). At 50-100m (the latter if calves are present) level out and set a straight course. This allows dolphins to be aware of your approach whilst giving them the freedom to move away or close the distance. Dolphins should not be approached head on or directly from behind. If dolphins are static e.g. feeding or socialising in one place, an approach of any sort may disturb their natural behaviour. In such cases it is recommended that you heave too at approximately 200m and observe from there.



  1.  Maintain a steady course and slow speed during encounters with dolphins. The risk of collisions, harassment and noise disturbance is reduced by maintaining a steady, slow speed. Your speed should be the slowest safe speed for your vessel and the environmental conditions. If dolphins speed up, slow down or move away from the vessel this could be avoidance behaviour. Do not try and keep pace with the dolphins. Instead, maintain a steady forward course until the dolphins return to the boat or have moved well clear, indicating the encounter is over. Do not turn back to the dolphins or try to encounter them a second time.

  2. If dolphins are encountered by more than one tour boat in the same location, the second boat arriving should adopt the stand off and wait approach, heaving to at approximately 300m until the first boat has moved away. Both boats should limit their interaction to approximately 10-15 minutes and should not return to the same dolphin group within that trip. If recreational vessels are present with dolphins, consider waiting until these vessels have left before approaching the dolphins. Do not surround dolphins or allow boats to be present on several sides of a group. Give dolphins plenty of room to leave. Please use your role as a commercial operator to set an example to other vessel users and the public.

  3. Do not allow anyone to touch, feed or swim with dolphins. The dolphins in the Moray Firth are self-supporting wild animals and do not need to be fed. Feeding these animals may alter their behaviour and can damage their health. Swimming with or touching dolphins may be dangerous as dolphins can be aggressive. Infections can also be transmitted between dolphins and humans.

  4. Dispose of all rubbish, waste oil and fuel on shore: use appropriate shore facilities and containers, or oil absorbency mats in bilges, to reduce the potential for marine pollution.

 Sensitive Area Guidelines

Chanonry Narrows: In the Chanonry Narrows a 'no go' zone is recommended as extending 150m in all directions from Chanonry Point. This is to allow the dolphins more freedom from boat interactions while they are feeding and inteacting here. This area should be used for transit only. Vessels should not stop while travelling through this area.  Stopping is allowed outside this area, but should be limited to 5-10 minutes. Engines should not be turned off; this is to avoid potential startle responses on turning engines back on. Vessels should only travel through this restricted area once in each direction, during each trip. Slow, steady, forward progress should be made at all time. Vessels should not linger but neither should they travel at speed.

Kessock Narrows/Beauly Firth: In this area the' no go' zone covers the area between the Kessock piers where the tide flows fastest (this can usually be easily observed). Vessels should stay out of this hunting zone entirely as the hydrophones located here have shown that underwater vessel noise can be very intense, which can potentially disrupt feeding behaviour and communication. This is also a ‘transit only area’. Adjacent to the hunting zone vessels should not stop, drift backwards in the tide or execute any turns. Instead slow, steady, forward progress should be made at all times. Vessels should hug the coast, avoiding shallow areas, but staying as far away as possible (at least 50m) from any dolphins.

Once past the hunting zone vessels can approach dolphins and stop to watch, but should limit stops to 5-10 minutes. Engines should remain switched on. Vessels should only travel through this area once in each direction, during each trip. At no point should there be more than one tour vessel in the Kessock Narrows area. A second boat entering the area should 'stand off and wait' outside of the narrows until the first boat has exited the narrows (either by leaving the Beauly Firth or by heading further up the firth away from the narrows area). The time spent inside the narrows area by any individual vessel should be restricted to 5-10 minutes. Vessels should not try and re-encounter the same dolphins within a single trip.

Where appropriate depending on conditions and the type of vessel, operators are encouraged to travel up into the Beauly Firth to enjoy the scenery and wildlife here (including dolphins), thus making this into a broader focused trip with less emphasis on the Kessock Narrows hunting area only.

The Cromarty Sutors: The area between the Sutor headlands is a popular feeding zone for dolphins. This is also a 'transit only' area and slow, steady, forward progress should be made whilst travelling through. Vessels should not stop but nor should they travel at speed. A distance of at least 50m should be maintained from any dolphins while in this area. Vessels should only travel through this area once in each direction, during each trip.