A WARNING shot has been fired across the bows of boat owners who sail too close to dolphins frolicking in the water off Inverness.
A poster campaign has been launched stating that criminal charges and hefty fines could face anyone found to be harassing dolphins or other cetaceans in the Moray Firth.
This warning came after an increase in the number of incidents, and as summer approaches with the promise of more vessels out looking for the highly photogenic mammals.
Police Scotland and partner agencies urge people out in boats to respect the marine wildlife off our coastline, after several incidents last summer including private boat operators getting too close to a pod of pilot whales near the Kessock Bridge, and a kite surfer allegedly disturbing dolphins feeding at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle.
A number of incidents were reported also at the busy Chanonry viewpoint near Fortrose involving boats and kite surfers risking disturbance to dolphins.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1994. This includes protection from disturbance either reckless or deliberate, harassment, killing and injury, with offences subject to a fine of up to £5000.
Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer, Constable Daniel Sutherland said: "Last year we received an increase in reports of water users getting far too close to cetaceans, sometimes for a good photo, or because of a lack of awareness surrounding their protection, or sometimes just a complete lack of regard for their safety."
Ben Leyshon of SNH said: "Whales, dolphins and porpoises are spectacular to watch, but they can easily be disturbed by human activity.
"We strongly recommend people follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code.
Alison Rose, Scottish Dolphin Centre manager, said: "People love messing about in the water but it’s important we are all aware that when we’re on the water we’re sharing that space with whales, dolphins and other marine mammals for whom the sea is their home."