Today [1 April] sees the launch of Aberdeen's fourth annual Dolphinwatch - a project helping people experience one of the UK's most impressive wildlife spectacles just a short distance from the city centre.
Record numbers of people visited RSPB Dolphinwatch last year with 5038 visits over the 18 weeks compared to 1668 in 2014. People from all over the world including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, France, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Malaysia and of course the UK were drawn to Torry Battery with many visitors coming to the city specifically to visit Dolphinwatch.
Steve Harris, CEO of VisitAberdeenshire, said: "Aberdeen's dolphins are quickly becoming one of the city's greatest tourist attractions. The mammals can be spotted playing in the Harbour mouth and along our coast; it's wonderful that this all happens so close to the city centre. We already know that people are visiting from across the globe to catch sight of the impressive dolphins and VisitAberdeenshire looks forward to continuing to promote the Dolphinwatch project worldwide."
And it's hardly surprising that Aberdeen is fast becoming a must-visit destination for dolphin enthusiasts. Last year, bottlenose dolphins were spotted on 95% of the days the team were onsite, with them regularly being seen all day and sometimes in groups of up to 20 at one time. This highlights just how important the area is for bottlenose dolphins and other marine wildlife and how excellent it is as a nature watching spot.
Aberdeen City Council Communities, Housing and Infrastructure convener Councillor Neil Cooney said: "We are very fortunate here in Aberdeen that we can watch these beautiful creatures so close to the shore - the opportunity to spot dolphins and other marine life so near to the city centre is something that is quite unique to the UK, if not Europe. Dolphinwatch was a phenomenal success last year and we are looking forward to welcoming even more residents and visitors this year to come and watch dolphins from Torry Battery with its stunning views of Aberdeen beach."
Since it started in 2013, Dolphinwatch has grown bigger and better each year thanks to support from VisitAberdeenshire, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeen Harbour Board Community Action Fund, Scottish Natural Heritage and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).
Chris Bain, External Relations Director for Aberdeen Harbour Board, said: "I know that everyone at Aberdeen Harbour Board is very proud of the port being home to such wonderful wildlife activity, and we are therefore wholeheartedly in support of the work that RSPB Dolphinwatch are doing. I hope people continue to visit the project and to enjoy watching the dolphins in such as unusual environment".
Sue Lawrence, Operations Officer for Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "Dolphins are some of our most charismatic wildlife and this is a fantastic opportunity to see these stunning animals from a major city. We are proud to support Dolphinwatch and encourage everyone to come along."
The popular attraction couldn't run without help from local volunteers either. Last year, more than fifteen people gave 853.5 hours of their time - the equivalent of another 1.7 members of staff - to help visitors have an amazing wildlife experience. This year almost 30 people have shown interest in helping at Dolphinwatch and this year's Dolphinwatch staff, Catherine Leatherland and Sally Tapp, and their team of volunteers, are excited for the start of the project.
Catherine said: "I feel so privileged that I get to spend my summer helping people see and find out more about Aberdeen's amazing dolphins. Sally and I are so passionate about marine wildlife and its protection and hope we can inspire all of our visitors to feel the same. Our volunteers are as enthusiastic as we are and we're just really excited to get out there and help people experience one of Scotland's greatest wildlife spectacles."
As part of the project, RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers are also trained so that they can contribute to Whale and Dolphin Conservation's Shorewatch programme which monitors the presence of whales, dolphins and porpoises in order to protect them.
Katie Dyke, Scottish Conservation Officer for WDC, said: "Scotland is an amazing place to see both whales and dolphins. Whale and Dolphin Conservation's Shorewatch programme works in 23 coastal communities across Scotland, training local volunteers to record their whale and dolphin sightings - it is so important to have eyes on the sea to help monitor, and so protect each species."
RSPB Scotland's Dolphinwatch team will be on hand at Torry Battery from 11am-6pm on Thursday to Sunday every week, from now until 14 August. They will be equipped with binoculars and telescopes provided by Viking Optical, and plenty of expertise to help visitors get the best experience possible.
Throughout the summer, there will be special events as part of Dolphinwatch too. Keep up to date with the project and share your photos at www.facebook.com/RSPBNorthEastScotland or www.twitter.com/RSPB_NEScotland.
1. The results of a visitor survey carried out in the final few weeks of Dolphinwatch 2015 showed that 31% of people that completed a survey were in Aberdeen specifically for Dolphinwatch. This rose to 47% when people who were in Aberdeen for work or lived here were removed from the analysis.
2. In that same survey, 99% of people said they would recommend Dolphinwatch to a friend. When asked why, responses included: "Privilaged to have dolphins here. Wonderful sight." "Great location and staff very good with children; great explanations about dolphins and wildlife; how to use binoculars etc" "Fantastic opportunity to see what should be one of Scotlands premiere wildlife attractions" "Dolphins are always there" "Great experience, lots of dolphin activity" and many more available on request.
3. WDC's Shorewatch programme relies on community volunteers to monitor the presence of whales, dolphins and porpoises around Scotland to help protect them. Volunteers receive training and access to equipment so that they can carry out regular 10-minute watches from various sites.
4. WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins. We defend these remarkable creatures against the many threats they face through campaigns, lobbying, advising governments, conservation projects, field research and rescue.
5. RSPB Scotland is part of the RSPB, the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.