Rare Sightings and Strandings

Of the 83 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) currently recognised in the world, 24 species have been recorded in the waters off the west coast of Scotland in recent years. These records can be divided into those species that have been seen fairly regularly as live animals and those that are seen quite rarely or as stranded animals.

Follow the links below to find out more about the whales and dolphins that are seen infrequently or as stranded animals. These include animals that are normally associated with deeper waters, such as the beaked whales, and those thought to be outside of their distribution limit, such as Fraser’s dolphins, beluga whales and narwhals. In this section you will also find information about regularly sighted cetaceans and some of the other marine animals seen in the Hebrides. 

Rare cetacean artwork ©Andrew Livingstone, HWDT

Striped Dolphin

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Striped dolphin Copyright Andrew Livingstone, HWDT

The striped dolphin is a streamlined oceanic dolphin, similar in shape and size to the common dolphin and measuring up t...

Fraser's Dolphin

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Fraser's dolphin Copyright Andrew Livingstone, HWDT

Fraser’s dolphins are robust-bodied animals that can measure up to 2.7 metres in length. Most distinctive is the s...

Long-finned Pilot Whale

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Long finned pilot whale Copyright Andrew Livingstone, HWDT

The long-finned pilot whale has a large, bulbous forehead and a long, robust body, which can measure up to 6.3 metres in...

False Killer Whale

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False killer whale Copyright Andrew Livingstone, HWDT

False killer whales have relatively slender bodies with a small, rounded head and no prominent beak.  In adult male...

Beluga Whale

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Beluga whale Copyright Andrew Livingstone, HWDT

Beluga whales have a number of very distinctive features. The head has a bulbous melon and a short beak with a clef...


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The narwhal has a rounded, robust body with no dorsal fin. The head is rounded, with a bulbous melon that protrudes...

Sei Whale

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The sei whale has a large, sleek body that can measure up to 19.5 metres in length. The dorsal fin is relatively la...

North Atlantic Right Whale

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The North Atlantic right whale is a large, robust-bodied animal that can measure up to 18 metres in length. Th...

Blue Whale

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At up to 33 metres in length, the blue whale is thought to be the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth. Calves can...

Pygmy Sperm Whale

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The pygmy sperm whale is a small robust-bodied whale that can measure 3.5 metres in length. They have certain featu...

Sowerby's Beaked Whale

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The Sowerby’s beaked whale has a prominent beak and, in adult males, one tooth on each side protrudes from the clo...

Cuvier's Beaked Whale

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The Cuvier’s beaked whale is a rotund- bodied animal that can measure up to seven metres in length. It has a sligh...