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The burgh of Tobermory on the island of Mull was first established as a fishing village in the late 18th century. Its location at the entrance of the Sound of Mull makes it perfect for a fishing industry that is active year-round. The location is also very attractive for wildlife tours – especially those enjoyed by boat. Tobermory boat trips are among the most appreciated leisure activities for both locals and visitors.

Tobermory harbour

What is so special about the marine life off the coast of Mull? The answer is simple: the incredible diversity. For example, there are some species of whales that prefer warm water only, limiting the time they are in the area to just a couple of months per year. However, other species of both whales and porpoises thrive in the waters off Scotland year-round. In addition, a large variety of fish and bird species populate the area.

If you have never visited Tobermory before, you might be surprised that a village of just 700 people could be so hospitable to so many visitors. Nevertheless, such is life in Tobermory. It is part of the culture. The locals have been very appreciative of their natural surroundings for generations; they are thrilled to be able to share those surroundings with others.

A word to the wise when searching online for Tobermory boat trips: do not confuse the Scottish burgh with the Canadian town of the same name. Canada’s Tobermory was named after its Scottish counterpart; it is also a popular tourist destination for boat trips because of the many shipwrecks off that portion of Canada’s coast. Make sure you are looking at the right Tobermory.

Whale Watching off Tobermory

Whale watching is becoming increasingly more popular thanks to a worldwide mindset that is more receptive to environmental protection. Moreover, because whales are so difficult to keep in captivity, there are people all over the world who would have no other opportunity to see these amazing animals if it were not for the boat tours offered by companies located in towns such as Tobermory.

On any one of the Tobermory boat trips departing from Mull, you could see the following:

  • Humpback Whales – The humpback whale has a distinct body shape that features a long pectoral fin and a somewhat pointed head. These are among the larger whale species, capable of reaching lengths of up to 16m (52 ft.). They are spotted off the coast of Scotland mainly during the summer and early autumn months.
  • Fin Whales – As with the humpback, fin whales are typically seen from July through until September. The fin is also a large mammal that can grow as long as 27m (89 ft.). This whale species is known as the ‘greyhound of the sea’ because of the incredibly fast speeds its sleek body allows it to achieve.
  • Minke Whales – The minke whale is not as particular about water temperature, making it observable off the coast of Scotland year-round. These animals are smaller by comparison, looking more like porpoises than whales to the untrained observer.
Humpback whale Tobermory boat trip
Spot Humpback whales on a Tobermory boat trip.

Should you decide to take a whale watching boat trip from Tobermory, be prepared to see more than just whales. It turns out that that there also several species of porpoise to see. On most days, you will be treated to species such as the common dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, the rissos dolphin, the orca, and the harbour porpoise.

Among all the porpoise species seen off the coast of Mull, the orca may be the most misunderstood. Perhaps much of that misunderstanding is due to the 1977 Hollywood film of the same name; a film that lead many people to mistakenly believe the orca is a whale species. Nonetheless, it is not; orcas are porpoises in every sense of the definition.

The orca is easily recognised by its shape and colour. With a black body and unique white markings on the belly, the orca is a very well proportioned animal with a sleek, curved body shape. The dorsal fin tends to protrude out of the water when the animal is close to the surface, sometimes leading to confusion among onlookers between sharks and porpoises. If you see an orca on your boat trip, it will truly be a breathtaking experience.

Other Animal and Bird Species

Wildlife boat trips off the coast of Scotland primarily focus on the marine life. However, there are a number of other animal and bird species you will likely find intriguing. For example, there is nothing quite as fascinating as observing colonies of seals hanging out on the shore and resting. Seals tend to congregate in large colonies that can number in the hundreds. And each one in a colony is competing for the best space on the beach.

You might also see otters, along with some spectacular birds such as the white tailed eagle and puffin. On a sunny day, seeing the local birds soaring through the air is truly spectacular. It gives you a new appreciation of what the coastline must have been like in the early years of Earth’s history.

Boat Tours and Tourism

Boat tours focused on whale and porpoise watching are relatively new in Tobermory. For that matter, they are a relatively new phenomenon around the world. The first commercial boat tours didn’t become entrenched until the 1950s, when the Cabrillo National Monument was designated by the US government as a venue for whale watching among the public. The whale species of choice back then was the grey whale.

Montreal joined the whale-watching craze in the 1970s thanks to the local Zoological Society beginning to offer boat tours along the St Lawrence River. By the 1980s, the idea of whale watching as a recreational activity had spread to Europe and beyond. Many of the older tour companies in Tobermory have been around since the mid-to-late 1980s.

Whale watching has grown substantially as a marketable enterprise over the last 30 years. Tourists spend millions of pounds every year on the boat trips themselves, and millions more to cover travel and accommodation expenses related to those tours. It has certainly been very good for the local economy in Tobermory.

What to Expect

Your first wildlife boat trip from Tobermory will be one you will remember for a lifetime. Tobermory boat trips are known throughout Scotland and the UK for both marine and land-based wildlife. Knowing what to expect will make your trip that much more enjoyable.

First of all, your tour guide knows the best spot to see whales, dolphins, sharks etc. He/she knows just where to go to maximise your viewing opportunities regardless of the time of year. Having said that, animals are unpredictable. There are days when there seem to be more whales and dolphins in the water than you can possibly take in visually. Yet there are days when the animals just do not want to be seen. You have to be prepared for either scenario.

When the animals are out and about, you may not necessarily see them congregate in groups. You might be looking across a vast expanse of water only to have your field of vision suddenly interrupted by an orca cresting the water line. Moreover, just as quickly as it appears, it could disappear under the surface. Make sure to have your camera at the ready at all times. Also, be sure to have a few sets of extra batteries with you.

On sunny and warm days, it is not unusual to see groups of whales or porpoises all together in the same place. They might be feeding; they might be travelling together as a pod; they might be exploring new waters. Seeing a large pod of whales or porpoises is truly impressive. You will be amazed at how social these animals are.

Lastly, be prepared for a change in weather. The summer months are the best time for Tobermory boat trips for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, even during the summer months, a storm could still blow up rather quickly. You may have to endure a little inclement weather in order to see what you came out to see.

Here are just a few more tips to remember:

  • Ask Questions – Tour guides love questions. Part of what makes their job so enjoyable is the opportunity to educate others about marine life. So do not be afraid to ask. There is no question unworthy of an answer, though your guide may not necessarily be able to provide the answer you are looking for.
  • Wear Sunglasses – The glare from the water can be a bit taxing on the eyes if you are not used to it. Furthermore, it can inhibit your ability to see marine life. You will probably have a much more enjoyable experience if you wear a pair of polarised sunglasses on your trip.
  • Wear a Hat – On sunny days you should make a point of wearing a hat. Many people do not realise how the hot sun can wear you down, especially if your head is not covered. A hat will protect you against sunburn while also helping your body preserve some of its energy.

Great Reasons to Enjoy a Tobermory Boat Trip

If you love the water and marine wildlife, you probably do not need any other reason to take a Tobermory boat trip in 2015. Nonetheless, if you need some help convincing others to join you, there are many great reasons to go. For example, let’s say you and your spouse are celebrating 25 years together. Why not spend a few days in Tobermory exploring the island of Mull. One or two of those days can be spent on the water with a local tour company.

Tobermory boat trips are also ideal for:

  • Family Holidays – It’s one thing to spend your family holidays at a resort town with lots of action and excitement. It is an entirely different matter to enjoy a quieter, more laid-back holiday focused on experiencing the wonders of nature. A holiday with a Tobermory boat trip can also be an educational experience as well.
  • School Groups – There is no better way to bring a school lesson to life than experiencing it first-hand. Tobermory boat trips are a great option for school groups learning about whales and other marine life.
  • Pensioner Outings – Pensioners are always looking for unique experiences that will educate and entertain. If you are a member of a pensioners group, why not gather them all together for a wonderful boat trip off the coast of Scotland. You are never too old to enjoy the awesome wonders of nature.
  • First Dates – You do not have to spend a first date at a pub or in a theatre. You and your date can get out and enjoy nature at her finest by way of a Tobermory boat trip. Not only will you see some exceptional wildlife, but you will also have something substantive to talk about. A boat trip is a great way to get to know your date without the pressure that comes from the pub scene.

There are a number of companies offering boat trips out of Tobermory throughout the year but Clyde Cruises offers the best experience at the best price. If you are going for just a day, you can probably research the companies on your own. Be sure to pay attention to pricing and scheduling, as not all boat trips are the same! Also, note that prices tend to be higher during the peak travel season.

Now that you know all about Tobermory boat trips, are you ready to take one? We hope so. Leaving the comfort of the coast and getting out on the water offers a truly unique opportunity to see the world as you have never seen it before. There is something fantastic and magical about enjoying the coastal waters of Scotland.

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