A group of marine scientists has claimed the expansion of Aberdeen Harbour could drive dolphins away from the area.
The expansion of the port is set to be completed by 2020, and it is hoped the project will enable Aberdeen to welcome cruise ships.
But the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) claim the noise during construction, and an increase in underwater noise due to more shipping traffic, could cause problems for the dolphin population.
Dr Denise Risch, an underwater noise researcher with SAMS, said: “With the harbour being expanded the potential is there for dolphins to be harmed by the increased noise or driven away from the area because of that.
“An increase in noise could cause dolphins to lose their hearing, this would mean they wouldn’t be able to find food or communicate with each other.
“If dolphins are exposed to an increase in noise over a sustained period studies have shown they leave an area either temporarily or more permanently.”
If dolphins were to leave the area it could pose problems for the proposed £10million science and heritage centre at Greyhope Bay.
Dr Fiona McIntyre, marine research scientist and managing director of the development, said: “It is a concern for us but with the harbour currently there is a massive amount of activity and the dolphins seem to do just fine.
“They may be deterred during the years of construction but I would expect them to still use the harbour entrance to feed after the construction.
“The dolphins are a big attraction in the area, and Greyhope has been branded as the dolphin watching centre but what we are trying to do is create something that has a lot more to offer than just going to spot the dolphins.”
Aberdeen Harbour Board chief executive Colin Parker last night said “appropriate actions and procedures” were being taken to protect the wellbeing of the local dolphin population.
He said: “Having reviewed all assessments of the local environment, appropriate actions and procedures have been followed in order to protect the well-being and safety of local wild dolphins.
“An extensive programme of mitigation measures have been developed to minimise impacts, including the deployment of a bubble curtain to reduce propagation of underwater noise.
“And the use of marine mammal observers and acoustic monitoring to ensure marine mammals are at a safe distance before certain works commence.”