Read our update for the latest local COVID-19 information.
  • Grey seal, Orkney - image by Adam Hough

Sea Life

The cool, clear waters surrounding Orkney are home to an incredible array of marine life that thrives in our nutrient rich sounds, firths and bays.

Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea and the Pentland Firth, there is no shortage of sea life to spot here, and the great natural harbour of Scapa Flow is a sheltered haven for all kinds of species.

In fact, Orkney’s sea life can quite often be as spectacular as its bird life. The islands are one of the best places to go seal-watching in the UK – it’s estimated that around 15% of the world’s seal population make Orkney their home.

Grey and common seals can be spotted here, often hauling themselves out on rocky outcrops and shorelines around the islands. They are naturally inquisitive creatures and can also be seen bobbing about in the shallows, tracking you as you take a stroll along a beach.

Autumn is the time to see grey seals during pupping season. Isolated geos and beaches are full of mums and their pups. A coastal walk in South Ronaldsay is your best option in October and November, but remember to always stay well back and never get close to the seals.

Over recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of orca sightings in local waters, with pods often seen in Scapa Flow, the Pentland Firth and Orkney’s north isles. Sometimes they can be tracked travelling up the east and west coastlines of the mainland or South Ronaldsay, offering plenty of opportunities to see them up close.

Keep your eyes peeled on ferry crossings to, from and within Orkney, and on coastal walks, and you could see whales, dolphins and porpoises. Orkney has even welcomed a walrus or two over the years.

Harder to spot are some of Orkney’s otter population, but they are definitely about! The Stenness Loch, particularly around the Brig o’Waithe, is very much their territory, although there are resident otters in Sanday, Kirkwall and around Scapa Flow too.

It’s not only the deeper seas that are full of life – when the tide recedes rock pools are revealed, packed with fascinating species, including starfish, limpets, hermit crabs and much more. They’re perfect for exploring and younger visitors will love seeing all the different shapes and sizes of our rock pool residents. The area between the West Mainland and the Brough of Birsay is the go-to place.