Educating at the Scottish Dolphin Centre

//Educating at the Scottish Dolphin Centre

Educating at the Scottish Dolphin Centre

Lorna Hall, education and outreach officer at Whale & Dolphin Conservation [WDC],  writes about its Scottish education programme based at Spey Bay on the beautiful Moray coastline.

WDC is a leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins.  Its Scottish education programme facilitates experiential education through a variety of methods, encouraging learning and active conservation.  Located at the mouth of the River Spey, the Scottish Dolphin Centre is an ideal venue for outdoor education with the chance to see a wide variety of wildlife in its natural habitat, including the resident bottlenose dolphins that live along the east coast all year round education programme includes working with people of all  ages, aiming to inspire enthuse and educate people about whales and dolphins and engage them in protecting these amazing creatures and their environment. The programme is managed by a full time education officer and delivered with the help of residential and local volunteers, and is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Our outreach work involves both learning inside the classroom and outdoor learning. The curriculum linked activities are all aimed at raising awareness of dolphins, other wildlife in the area and ways people can look after the environment. Our outdoor activities range from:

  • conservation actions such as beach cleans
  • games aimed at explaining echolocation (the technique dolphins use to find food), issues surrounding dolphins in captivity and guided walks/tours
  • learning about dolphins in the Moray Firth and carrying out land-based dolphin surveys where the groups learn about WDC’s research in Scotland
  • learning the importance of the beach and combining art and nature

Our outreach work also includes interactive Power Point talks or workshop activities within the school.  These talks and workshops allow the children to:

  • learn about whales and dolphins in Scotland and how they can help to protect them
  • appreciate the size of whales and dolphins in the Moray Firth using life-size cut outs
  • learn how blubber works by experimenting with our ‘blubber glove’
  • look closely at and hold some real and replica whale and dolphin skulls and bones

A children’s holiday club, Wildlife Warriors, is run from the Scottish Dolphin Centre encouraging children aged 4-10 years to spend time outdoors exploring nature. Previous session themes have ranged from dinosaurs to dolphins, teaching children about a wide range of topics through fun games and activities. Wildlife Warriors has shown to be successful as many children come back year after year.  As one warrior parent noted:

“Wildlife Warriors has been a fantastic experience for both of us; she has learnt so much without realising it. The sessions have been well thought out and it’s been lovely seeing all the children enjoying the activities.”

When running activities with nursery children we try to make them as hands-on as possible. For example on our river ramble activity children are taken on a guided walk along the river to look for wildlife. On the walk the children create a ‘memory card’ where they can stick on leaves and flowers of the plants they learn about. When visiting nurseries we take along hands-on activities such as the bones box, life size cut outs and blubber glove.

All the activities we offer are linked to the Curriculum for Excellence and cover a wide range of curriculum topics including science, social sciences and expressive arts. One example where all of these areas are included is our beach activity. Children discover how the physical features of the beach influence the living things found there. They learn to distinguish living and non-living components of the beach, and the importance of both, as well as the problems of marine litter and ways people can reduce this. At the end of the activity the children use different materials from the beach to create a piece of artwork to convey ideas and thoughts about marine life or threats to the marine environment.  Cameron, a year 5 pupil, said this:

”Thank you for letting us come to the dolphin centre. We had lots of fun. I also think dolphins being in captivity is cruel and wrong. My favourite thing was the beach art. I enjoyed that a lot because I never knew there were that many different stones and I never knew you could make objects out of sticks and stones.” 

For higher level school groups our activities can be a lot more in-depth, particularly with sensitive issues such as whaling and captivity, and the students take away a lot more information from the activities. When discussing the issue of dolphins in captivity, the older students can take on board more disturbing facts such as the cruel drive hunts that take place to capture and kill dolphins off the coast of Japan. On visits to the Scottish Dolphin Centre students practise a full research survey to watch out for dolphins, gaining an idea of research methods, and actually carry out data collection themselves.  An Elgin High School biology teacher commented:

”My S2 class and I just wanted to thank you for coming to visit us last week. The class really enjoyed the talk and were very engaged throughout. The activities were really good and pitched very well for their level. I think they were quite shocked about the dangers that whales and dolphins face.”

Issues and successes

Working outdoors with secondary school groups can be quite diffi cult to arrange due to their timetables. Options can include students visiting as a requirement of a specifi c module, or as part of a school ‘activities week’.  If a school cannot come to us, we aim to visit them.  To avoid bad weather, most of our outreach happens outside of winter. For groups that visit during winter time, the activities are shortened to a couple of hours so exposure to the cold is lessened.  For extreme weather, we have an  indoor education room at Spey Bay and, thereafter, children who are dressed appropriately, can usually work around in a bit of rain and wind.

Many of the children involved in our education programme return to Spey Bay with their families, which enables us to continue our outreach work to the adults of the family, widening the reach of WDC.  Many schools, after a visit or talk, carry out active conservation such as fundraising or beach cleans, showing we have been successful in engaging them with the wildlife and natural resources on their doorstep and looking after the natural environment.

As the education programme has developed it has shown that our hands-on activities engage children more effectively than a simple talk so we try to use these methods wherever possible. Due to the longterm ongoing nature of our education programme it can be diffi cult to measure any outcomes; however some of the feedback we have received from groups and leaders has shown us the success of our work.

All of the education work carried out would not be possible without our residential volunteers. These enthusiastic, passionate and dedicated individuals volunteer with us for eight months to help with the running of the education programme and the centre and contribute to the success of our work.

For more information, please contact Lorna: or visit WDC’s website.


This article was first published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 107).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.

By | September 28th, 2015|Environmental Education Feature|0 Comments

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