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24 July, 2014

Whales could benefit from additional MPAs

Whales could benefit from additional MPAs: Slider - Underwater 2

In addition to the 30 marine protected areas (MPAs) in Scottish waters announced today, a further four sites could benefit species of whales, dolphins and sharks. This is according to a new report by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The report coincides with the announcement of 30 MPAs by Scottish Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead.

The announcement follows last year’s public consultation which saw 99% of respondents in favour of an MPA network around Scotland.

After further research, SNH has published advice on a further four MPA proposals for Minke whales, Risso’s dolphins and basking sharks, species which are not included in the suite of 30 sites.

The new sites are in the Sea of the Hebrides, at North-east Lewis, the Southern Trench and Shiant East Bank, in the North Minch.

Ministers are considering this advice which may become the subject of a future public consultation.

Other features that could benefit from the additional four sites include sandeels, sea fan and sponge communities and geological features such as iceberg scours, troughs and moraines.

Ron Macdonald, director of policy and advice at SNH said:

“Scotland has one of the longest coastlines in Europe. The sea has always sustained the country economically and it is crucial to our future prosperity. In terms of wildlife, habitats and geology, Scotland’s marine environment is as diverse and dramatic as the land.

“We have a duty to help ensure Scotland continues to benefit economically from the sea and that this vital resource is managed sustainably for generations to come. That is what marine protected areas are really about. If confirmed these four additional MPAs could help these amazing animals which clearly thrive in Scottish waters and attract many visitors each year.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Government has also adopted SNH’s and JNCC’s list of Priority Marine Features (PMFs). This list will help focus future marine planning, research and conservation work.

Ron Macdonald added:

“We are extremely grateful to the many individuals and groups who have contributed to this work. Their input was hugely helpful in shaping our advice to Marine Scotland and Ministers on the suite of sites, possible MPAs and PMF list announced today.”


Notes to editors

Notes to editors

Commissioned Report 780: Further advice to Scottish Government on the selection of Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas for the development of the Scottish MPA network is available on the SNH website.

SNH has published two other research reports today produced as part of the MPA work. This is part of SNH’s continuing commitment to making its evidence available to others.

CR620: Validation of seabed habitat MPA search feature records relating to the South Arran Nature Conservation MPA which was originally published in 2013 has been revised in response to comments raised in the 2013 MPA public consultation. Refinements include the addition of a new ‘evidence’ annex to improve transparency in the decision-making process.

CR738: Survey of marine features within the Luce Bay and Sands Special Area of Conservation (SAC) presents findings from surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013. These include the discovery of a large maerl bed in the mouth of the bay and the mapping of extensive reefs built by the honey comb worm (Sabellaria alveolata) along the eastern side of the bay.

Scotland’s Seas

The 18,000km coastline of Scotland is nearly as long as half the circumference of the earth. It would be quicker to walk to Australia than to walk every part of it. Someone who tried this took six months to walk along the Scottish mainland coast alone.

Approximately 8500 species of marine plants and animals are known to live in Scottish coastal waters. However, new species are still being discovered every year, particularly in deeper waters to the north and west of Scotland.

The Basking Shark is the world's second largest fish (beaten only by the whale shark). They can filter a thousand tonnes of sea water an hour for plankton, the equivalent of the entire volume of the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh. On average, the adult basking shark reaches a length of 6–8 metres and weighs about 5 tons.

As Risso’s dolphins age their skin tone lightens. They are born a dark black/brown colour but over the years this lightens to pale grey (their Latin name means ‘grey whale’), with some animals turning completely white.

Basking sharks have up to 1500 tiny teeth in their mouths - these are not for eating, but are thought to be used to grasp their partner during mating.

Minke whales in Scotland use bird-associated feeding methods. The whales hunt large concentrations of schooling fish which have been brought to the surface by feeding seabirds above and predatory fish below, swooping in to consume the ball of prey with minimal energy expended. Minke whales are commonly seen in association with kittiwakes, herring gulls, gannets, shearwaters and guillemots. So next time you are whale watching, look out for the birds!

Marine survey work in 2012 recorded the largest flame shell bed in Scotland on the seabed at the mouth of Loch Alsh, under the Skye Bridge. With an area of 70 ha this might be the largest bed in the world! These beautiful flame-tentacled bivalves grow to around 3 cm in length and there can be as many as 700 individuals in 1 square metre of the seabed, so the bed in Loch Alsh might be home to up to 490 million flame shells.... scorching!!

The main current responsible for bringing warmer waters to Scotland is the North Atlantic Drift. This transports huge volumes of water, up to 16 million cubic metres every second, at speeds of approximately 3cm a second, about the same speed as an average marathon runner.

Ocean quahogs, Arctica islandica, are deepwater clams which live around the coast of Scotland,and they can live longer than any other animal in the world.

Maerl is often referred to as Scottish coral, but it is not a coral at all – it is actually a seaweed! Maerl Phymatolithon calcareum is a species of red calcifying algae that form unattached, branching nodules on the seafloor. Maerl provides a distinct habitat; some of the animals that live in maerl beds have become specially adapted and have not been found anywhere else in Scottish waters.

One clam has been found that was 500 years old, so it was already alive when the Tudors came into power!

The phosphorescent seapen, Pennatula phosphorea, which is related to anemones and corals and lives on muddy and sandy seabeds around Scotland, looks like a miniature Christmas tree and can light up in waves of blue - green light dancing along its branches.

Sponges are some of the most ancient animals around today, and have a very successful chemical self defence system - components of which have been discovered to be very effective cancer treatment drugs.

Glowing spots you can sometimes see at night in waves and in the wake of boats are mostly created by tiny planktonic animals called dinoflagellates which can send out flashes of bioluminescence when triggered by mechanical forces.

A striking feature of the west Scottish coastline is the abundance of raised beaches and cliffs. These are former coastlines now sitting hundreds of metres inland and up to 30 metres above sea level. During the Ice Age, up to a kilometre of ice lay on Scotland’s mountains, and the weight of this ice was so great it squashed the land down into the earth’s crust and mantle below. Now the ice has gone the reverse process is occurring, and Scotland is ‘bouncing’ back up (at 1-2mm a year); this is called the “isostatic rebound”.

Loch Fyne is the longest and deepest sea loch in Scotland, at 61 km long and up to 185 m deep.

There are only a handful of places in the world where the beautiful reef structures built by aggregations of the organ tube worm Serpula vermicularis have been found. One of the best of these is in Loch Creran near Oban.

There is a small, beautifully coloured fish called Fries’ goby, Lesuerigobius friesii which lives in burrows it shares with the much bigger langoustine or Norway lobster Nephrops norvegicus in Scotland’s muddy seabeds. The shy goby might act as a sort of ‘burglar alarm’ to the prawn, warning it of approaching dangers.

Wrasses, fish inhabiting rocky coasts and reefs which are commonly seen by divers all around Scotland, are able to change sex during their life. Among any group of wrasses there will only be a single male, and when he dies the most dominant female will undergo a sex change and become the new male.

The bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth are said to be the northernmost resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the world. They are larger and have more blubber than tropical bottlenose dolphins, to help them survive in cold northern waters.

Atlantic salmon in Scottish rivers are unique in that they return to our rivers from the sea almost all year round. This habit means that the salmon fishing season, that supports so many jobs, extends for longer than in other countries.

Contact information

Dominic Shann
Job Title
Media Relations Officer
01463 725157

NatureScot is Scotland's nature agency. We work to enhance our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. Our priority is a nature-rich future for Scotland and an effective response to the climate emergency. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

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