Wildlife in Shetland

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  • Gannets roosting at the bottom of cliffs on the Isle of Noss off the east coast of Bressay
    Gannets roosting on the Isle of Noss off the east coast of Bressay
  • A puffin at Samburgh Head, Mainland
    A puffin at Samburgh Head, Mainland
  • A seal in Lerwick Harbour, Mainland
    A seal in Lerwick Harbour, Mainland
  • A Shetland pony foal with its mother
    Shetland ponies
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Discover a nature lover’s paradise in Shetland and witness spectacular gatherings of seabirds alongside magnificent marine life and the isles’ world-famous ponies.

An exotic and diverse array of wildlife awaits you in the Shetland Isles. Discover one of the best places in the world for birdwatching, and observe incredible marine life and rare, indigenous breeds at close quarters.

There are few natural sights more impressive than watching tens of thousands of seabirds congregating on Shetland’s sheer cliffs. Visit the nature reserves at Sumburgh Head, Noss and Hermaness to get up close to colonies of puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills and guillemots. Watch as gannets dive at breakneck speed into the frigid waters of the North Sea and travel to Mousa to see swarms of storm petrels returning to their nesting grounds in the island’s Iron Age broch under the cover of darkness.

Sumburgh Head, situated on the southern tip of the mainland, is one of the most popular places to go birdwatching in Shetland. It is also the location of Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, one of Shetland’s most important heritage sites. Designed by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of writer Robert Louis Stevenson, this historic lighthouse and its buildings are currently undergoing a multi-million pound renovation that will see them transformed into a state-of-the-art visitor centre which will open its doors in 2014.

No matter what the season, Shetland’s pristine coastal waters are a fantastic place to see a number of sea creatures. Hear the haunting sound of seals ‘singing’ as you walk along a sandy beach or watch them basking on the rocky shore at low tide.

Visit in summer when the sun barely dips below the horizon for the chance to see the elusive sea otter. Watch these usually nocturnal animals teaching their young to hunt for their prey in the shallows or in freshwater lochs and burns. Take a boat trip out to Mousa Sound and Yell Sound and you’re likely to see harbour porpoises and the occasional school of dolphins. With a bit of luck, you might even see orcas chasing seals close inshore.

See Shetland’s instantly recognisable ponies in their native surroundings as they roam freely over heather-clad hillsides and secluded beaches. Standing at just 42 inches, these diminutive yet hardy creatures are one of many species unique to the island that have evolved to suit their habitat. 

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