DOLPHINS are in danger of disappearing from the Scottish coast as temperature rises and food shortages drive them away.
The white-beaked dolphin, once spotted frequently off the Aberdeenshire coast, is becoming so rare that experts have named it "Scotland's panda", and are appealing for funds to help the species.
Another six species of whale and dolphin are also in danger of disappearing within 10 years. The dolphins are not returning to Scotland after spending the winter in the colder waters of the North Atlantic as fishermen are catching increasing numbers of the cod, mackerel and herring that the mammals feed on.
Bottlenose dolphins are already spending longer periods away and white-beaks are hardly ever seen off the Aberdeenshire coast, which this year was named one of the best places to spot whales and dolphins. Many of the species, which include harbour porpoises, minke whales, common dolphins, Risso's dolphins and killer whales, come to the Scottish coast during the summer months and draw hordes of visitors to the area.
Sea Watch Foundation coordinator Ian Sim is trying to raise 10,000 to buy a research vessel to monitor the dolphins and whales more closely. He said: "It would be devastating if they disappeared."
He said a major reason was the knock-on effect of the economic downturn, which had pushed up demand for cheaper fish such as herring, which white-beak dolphins feed on. Coupled with the rise in sea temperature, he said there would be no sightings of white-beaks in 10 years.
Ian Hay, of the East Grampian Coastal Partnership, said the white-beak was becoming as endangered in Scottish waters as the panda elsewhere.
White-beaks can grow to 11ft long. They are some of the most acrobatic dolphins as they communicate with somersaults and tail slaps.