Sea of the Hebrides: Possible MPA

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

By Sophie Ranson


Like the North East Lewis possible Marine Protected Area (pMPA) covered in a previous blog, NatureScot’s new list of possible Marine Protected Areas includes another area particularly pertinent to our mission here at Hebridean Adventures: the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA.

Located off of the coast of Western Scotland, the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA’s mix of cool and warmer waters create an area of high productivity known as a ‘front’. With concentrated areas of plankton and nutrients, these fronts make for a popular ‘go-to’ breeding ground among many species, and two of Scotland’s most famous swimmers -- the basking shark and the minke whale -- are no exception.


Basking Sharks

Basking shark swimming at the surface of the water in Scotland.
A basking shark showing its dorsal fin and tail fin at the surface.

After the whale shark, the basking shark is the world’s second largest fish -- growing to the magnificent length of up to 10 metres. Famed for its gargantuan mouth, the basking shark is greyish brown in colour and a slow moving filter-feeder; one of only three plankton-eating shark species in the world.


Minke Whales

The front of a minke whale at the surface
Minke whale near the Shiant Isles

Despite reaching a similar size -- minke whales are actually among the smallest species of the baleen whale family found in UK waters. With a dark upper body (dark grey or black) and white stomach, these are the creatures you’ll most commonly see out of any of the baleen whale family -- often alone or in groups of two or three.


Granting MPA status to the Sea of the Hebrides will help ensure protection of these species. Recognising fronts as paramount to their survival is essential: front conservation enhances primary productivity and prey availability. While both species (and more!) will benefit from the preservation of important biogenic habitats, such as maerl beds and sea grass, species like basking sharks -- which are currently listed as an OSPAR threatened and declining species -- are particularly vulnerable without it.


Lucky for us (and you, fellow voyager!), several of our cruises from Mallaig-- such as our Skye and the Small Isles cruise -- venture through this wildlife hotspot and pMPA. With a long history of working closely with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT), we log every single one of our sightings and provide the data via the HWDT ‘Whale Track’ app. Our home port of Stornoway is located in the neighbouring North Minch, making us also excellently positioned to trace movement of various species into the area.


While official MPA status is still pending, we will endeavour to share updates with you. In the meantime, please download the leaflet below for more information.


Click the link below to view the PDF.

https://www.nature.scot/sites/default/files/2019-06/Sea%20of%20the%20Hebrides%20possible%20MPA%20-%20Site%20Summary%20Leaflet.pdf

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