Scotland wildlife cruise, marine biology

“A unique week living on board restored tall ship learning all about marine biology with expert skipper and guide. Sail, dive and learn your way around the islands of Argyll and Bute.”


Holy Loch | Scotland wildlife expert guide | Loch Riddon | Kyles of Bute | Minke whales | Dolphins Isle of Arran | Marine biology study sessions | Burnt Islands | Island of Eilean Dubh | Loch Striven

Description of Scotland wildlife cruise, marine biology

This is a unique holiday, spending a week gaining marine biology knowledge and, if required, qualifications, on a journey that takes you on the open sea around Scotland’s Kyles of Bute. A Kyle is the narrow channel that separates the mainland west coast from the Isle of Bute and also other stunning isles, such as Burnt Islands and Eilean Dubh. Spending five nights on board St. Hilda, which sleeps six passengers, you will sail the sea lochs and islands of Argyll and Bute on board this traditional wooden ketch, a magnificent former tall ship.

There is a wealth of marine life along this coastline which we will study alongside our expert instructor both on board, using our high quality microscopes, plankton nets and library, but also in the water, with diving available. This trip is accredited as part of the Compass Education marine biology qualification, although plenty of our guests are simply marine conservation enthusiasts who aren’t seeking certificates.

Because as well as studies of plankton, marine wildlife, waves and tides, there is plenty of time to just enjoy life at sea. With a supply of superb food, ever changing land and seascapes, sailing experience in the hands of an expert skipper and of course plenty of visitors along the way, such as dolphins, seals or even humpback whales, every day brings something new on board St. Hilda.

Hello. If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

01273 823 700

Departure information

This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Scotland wildlife cruise, marine biology


We are committed to excellence in offering holidays to people who have a feel for the sea and its wildlife, both below and above the waves, as well as ashore. Our holidays operate on a strict “leave only a wake” policy. Our aim is to respect the sea and the local marine and shore-based environment. To leave everything as we find it is our motto, respecting the delicate eco-system balance of sky, sea and shore. Our “leave only a wake” policy is explained by the skipper at the start of every trip and practiced by guests and crew throughout the trip. Sailing is, of course, a very sustainable mode of travel. To achieve this “Leave Only a Wake” policy we have a series of aims:

Our aim is to create sustainable tourism by respecting the local sea and shore-based environment. Our aim is to provide a safe ship and responsible tourism. Our aim is to adhere to high standards of economic, environmental and social policy and practice in our interactions with clients, staff, core suppliers and partners as well as the wider social and ecological environment. Our aim is to look after our clients to the best of our ability and supporting them on the vessel in personnel safety and creating a respect for the marine environment. Our on board skills training aims to develop confidence and competence and we have extensive briefing of our safety procedures. Our aim is to have responsible standards of staff recruitment and development. At all times there are always two team members available. The fully qualified skipper is a scientist and has sailed many thousands of sea miles. All activities in the water are monitored to protect both humans and the marine life.

We offer training in sailing and navigation and how to behave in a responsible manner to the animals (seal colonies) and birds (especially breeding colonies) that we encounter. Our onboard policy is that all rubbish is brought ashore and we have a strict recycling policy of all non-organic waste. Our skipper and other professionals discuss the local shore and marine environment, wildlife and ecosystems. Clients are able to visit local places of beauty such as the local Botanical gardens. Historical sites, such as castles and pre-history sites, can be visited. We also help clients gain an awareness of local marine environment by encouraging them to study the nautical charts of the region as well making them aware of the ever changing Scottish weather patterns. The skipper keeps the clients regularly informed of local meteorological reports.


We only employ services of the local marina, shops, cleaning services, restaurants and guides. These suppliers all employ local staff. When possible we offer training and in-house knowledge on preparing a wooden boat for sea in a marine environment.

We are actively involved in preserving the marine environment and lobby both Scottish and UK governments for the setting up marine reserves within the community. A healthy marine environment is good for tourism as well as local fishing communities. We collect data on plankton and marine mammals and supply information to local wildlife watch societies such as the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

We encourage our guests to visit locally important heritage sites, visit local Botanical Gardens, craft shops, restaurants and participate in cultural events. Tourism is increasingly a vital part of the income for the local residents of this somewhat remote, isolated but beautiful region of the Cowal peninsular. Thus we use all local products and local services with the intention of helping to support local businesses, create employment and contribute to the overall sustainable development of the Sandbank/Dunoon region.

2 Reviews of Scotland wildlife cruise, marine biology

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 20 Sep 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Definitely hard to choose, the enthusiasm that Michael & Colette had for all things nautical made anything we did seem interesting. Despite not sailing as much as we could have, due to reports of gale force winds surrounding us, we were kept entertained (and very well fed). We were told all about the area we sailed in, along with plentiful amusing anecdotes, and I recommend looking out for the creepy 'Old Maids of Bute' and other landmarks to go along with the amazing wildlife. Harbour porpoises kept appearing at random times and we definitely had a close up of large amounts of seals (from the little dingey we were touring on), along with a number of seabirds such as manx shearwaters, guillimots and gannets - which were fun to watch dive bombing the water in really impressive numbers. I also managed to remeber 3 and a half knots! (My cowhitch kept getting mixed up with a clove hitch, or is it the other way around?) Which I found myself incredibly proud of.

I found the study of plankton that we did on the trip truly interesting - Michael knows all about his chosen field and I often found myself wishing that I had revised up on the subject so I could discuss things more in depth with him. He is very happy to talk to explain all he can about what appears to be an under appreciated life form. I was really interested in what his monitoring and work with plankton was being used for, and he brought up some views on other scientific ideas that I had taken for granted that were fun to discuss. The microscopes and eqipment he used to study the plankton gave us a clear, up close encounter with the massive zoo that appears to float around the ocean. I got to find one piece that he couldn't identify at the time, so here's hoping for a new species. One of the best sights of the trip was actually in the large amount of luminescent plankton which could be seen at night when something impacted the water, it seemed to coat a black ocean with glitter, and a condensed sample brought out was a bit like using a glow stick.

The trip was definitely successful not just for the activities but due to the people I sailed along with who made everything fun and entertaining and it was often difficult to move from the table, the stories were so overflowing. Speaking of the table - Colette definitely deserves a mention for her AMAZING food, I felt that I was on a gourmet tour and it was often hard not to waddle out onto deck with how much we were given. It was also suprisingly satisfying to both catch and eat our own fish. A special mention should be made for her ability to bake from scratch a lemon drizzle cake (made especially for my birthday) in force 5 or 6 winds.

Overall I had a wonderful time and I hope that the holiday provider continues to be a success.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I would highly recommend bringing your own pair of binoculors, I think the holiday provider has a pair but it is useful to keep a some on hand for everything that you might see. If there are reports of bad weather for your trip don't expect to be doing much sailing - there is still plenty to do but you may stay around the more sheltered sea lochs rather than braving the ocean winds for your own safety.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I think the knowledge given during the trip, along with the discussions we had about the major impacts and problems in the area (such as large scale trawling) helps you really appreciate the ongoing pressures we humans have on the world. From what I could understand from what Micheal is studying, his research on plankton has great potential to be used as an indicator for what is happening in our ocean and he has a particular eye out for a specific species of plankton which has only been found in tropical waters and what it could mean for the climate if it turns up around Britain. It was easy to see how much care Micheal & Colette put in to leaving as little impact as possible and how much they valued the environment they live in.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I really loved this trip, as I hope my earlier comments have shown. I always enjoy something that I can learn from and the encouragement and enthusiasm put in to teaching and showing us the workings the holiday provider, the surrounding landscape and the marine biology of the area made it a true pleasure to experience. Micheal & Colette put in a lot of work to keep everyone of the crew as happy, comfortable and fed as possible and I would like to make a special thanks for making my birthday (which occured on the boat) so enjoyable, despite not knowing about it beforehand.

Reviewed on 04 Oct 2014 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I loved the whole atmosphere of being on the St Hilda, learning about how to sail a boat and discovering the wildlife around us. Sailing towards Arran under the blue sky was absolutely fantastic. Also, fishing for our dinner and catching lobster and crabs in our lobster pot was so exciting! Colette and Michael looked after us so well - they were the perfect hosts! And Colette cooks the most delicious meals!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Remember taking the right gear so you can enjoy your holiday without any worries. In any case, you will get all the information you need from Colette and Michael. You should be reasonably fit to be able to make the most of all the activities that are offered.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The St Hilda Wildlife Cruise is operated with great respect for the environment. As a guest on the St Hilda, you learn a lot about the area, the sea and the wild life. Therefore, it supports conservation and raises awareness of the need to protect our environment.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Spending a week on the St Hilda in Scotland was a fantastic experience - I would love to go back any time! Highly recommendable!

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