By Maddie Cayley one of our 2022 residential Volunteers
Driving north to join the team at the Scottish Dolphin Centre back in May was a surreal experience. Spey Bay had been, until that point, a hazy memory for me. I had visited the centre once when I was small in the hopes of seeing my adopted dolphin, Moonlight. The place had taken on that magical quality childhood memories have – the kind of memories that make you question what was real and what was a dream. I remember looking out at the sea, battered by wind and rain, and even though I didn’t see any dolphins that day, I remember loving this wild and windy place. So to find myself slightly more grown up and on my way to start work as a summer volunteer at the centre was magical and strange, as well as very exciting, of course!
Spey Bay itself is an incredible place to live. Almost as soon as I’d arrived, brought my stuff into the house, and met my fellow volunteers we were off swimming in the river by the viaduct. This set the tone for my summer and I was quickly immersed – quite literally – into this wild and wonderful world. Spey Bay more than lived up to those happy, hazy memories of mine, and I quickly fell completely in love with the place again. Every day when I woke up, I would look out of my window and see the river winding its way towards the mouth, with Ben Rinnes and Ben Aigan out on the horizon promising adventure. If I was lucky I would see the heron glide majestically into the stream in front of the house, or an osprey hovering ominously as he fishes over the bend in the river. If I kept still, the house martins would swoop in and out of the eves, and I’d hear the oystercatchers worrying their way across the fields.
Being further north stretches the days in summer, which makes Spey Bay feel like it runs on its own schedule, separate from the rest of the world. More light, longer days, and strange, unpredictable weather makes you seize moments and be more present – two things that are really helpful when looking for wildlife. One evening during my first week here all of us volunteers were settling in for a quiet night after a long day. At about 9:30pm I heard a knock on my bedroom door. Michael had just seen a WhatsApp message saying a humpback whale had been spotted close to shore at Portknockie. It was still light out so before I knew it we were piling into the car and speeding towards the whale. We saw the humpback two nights in a row that week. It is one of my favourite wildlife encounters ever, and my first ever whale sighting – made all the more special because it was shared with the other volunteers! If we had seen no other cool animals this summer I would have been content because we had seen a humpback – but luckily for me this was just the beginning and I had a summer full of dolphins, a breaching minke whale, and even a basking shark in my final few days here!
Spey Bay is the most special place, and I learned so much not just from the amazing centre staff, but also thanks to the generosity of everyone who was willing to chat away with me. Both the locals and the visitors were so open and you can feel the knowledge of and care for nature that everyone visiting or living in Spey Bay shares. I feel really lucky to have been able to live in this special place and get to know this amazing coastline, its wildlife, and people. My inner-eight year old Moonlight adopter is thrilled that I got to work for WDC (and meet the one and only Charlie Phillips!) and I will never forget all of the amazing dolphins we saw this summer – the thrill of seeing them really never wore off. I’ll definitely be back for more adventures one day!