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‘Moray Firth dolphins changed my life’: How chance encounter made engineer give up London rat race to chase whales and dolphins across the world

Steve Truluck's enthusiasm for the north-east residents under the waves has taken him as far as the Falkland Islands.

Steve Truluck smiling at camera holding camera with dog on wall and Moray Firth behind.
Steve Truluck is often joined on his whale watching adventures by his dog Riley. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Steve Truluck couldn’t have been further from whales and dolphins during his daily M25 commute 10 years ago.

He was living south of London, an engineer on construction projects including roads and car parks.

But the lifestyle was leaving him unfulfilled and disconnected, there was something missing.

When his company secured a contract to work on the Forres flood defences in 2015, he seized the opportunity for respite in the north-east.

Orcas in Moray Firth
Orcas photographed by Steve Truluck off the coast of Hopeman in 2021. Image: Steve Truluck at Sea

What he was not expecting was a chance conversation with a shopkeeper to ignite a passion for dolphins, whales and other marine life that has now taken him across the world.

His enthusiasm has led to him featuring on TV shows, and even inspired a movie.

Dolphins inspire move from London to Moray Firth

Today Steve is always watching the sea for a glimpse of whales or dolphins. Even when he’s not watching it, he’s connected to it.

He has special notifications set up on his phone that ring a particular noise when there are updates.

It’s all in the anticipation of catching the slightest glimpse of a dolphin or, most excitingly, an Orca riding the waves.

Few things could be further from his old life on the M25.

Steve Truluck leaning over map.
Steve Truluck stayed in the north-east after being fascinated by its whales and dolphins. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Steve, who lives near Lossiemouth, said: “I kept saying to myself ‘There must be more to life than this.’ I said it all the time I was in Guildford and then on the commute, every day there and back. It was bloody awful.

“My company got the roadworks contract for the Forres project and I put my name forward for it, nobody else wanted to come. I wanted to give it a go.

“I moved into a house in Hopeman and on my first day I went to one of the local shops.

“They could obviously tell I was an incomer and asked me where I was staying. When I told them they said you can see dolphins from there.

“From that moment on my life changed. I spent pretty much every waking hour staring out of the window hoping to see them.”

Why dolphins are special to Steve Truluck

Steve didn’t spot any dolphins during his first stay in Hopeman, but the disappointment only fuelled his interest and passion for them and whales.

He relocated to the Moray village permanently and immediately threw himself into the local whale and dolphin watching community.

Very quickly he made friends and contacts through Shorewatch events, which are run by Spey Bay-based charity WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation).

Together they trained their eyes on the sea to watch for a nose, a fin or splashes of water to indicate a pod was nearby.

Steve Truluck looking through telescopic photo lens.
Steve Truluck always keeps a watchful eye on the Moray Firth for whales and dolphins. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

And what Steve saw only increased his curiosity about the north-east locals who live beneath the waves.

He said: “I love being around wildlife, but what you tend to see is that they’re usually absolutely petrified of being around us. Quite rightly so too.

“Whereas here the dolphins will come straight over to the boat. If they want to know you them have no qualms about saying so.

“I felt a connection with them straight away. It’s just so uplifting being near them, they’re amazing animals, so intelligent.”

‘Whale population in Moray Firth is growing’

Steve keeps a watchful eye on the Moray Firth with a scope, binoculars and a long lens camera packed in his van.

By his side is his dog Riley, usually clutching a stuffed Orca toy in his mouth.

The 49-year-old doesn’t just take photos for the thrill of it or just to share them on his Facebook page Steve Truluck at Sea.

Orca whale surfacing while blowing water.
An Orca pod came close to the Burghead coast last month. Image: Steve Truluck at Sea.

Instead, he snaps fins and eyes of them to look for identifying features, including scratches, to log returning whales to share with others.

And what he has noticed over the years are groups growing in numbers.

He said: “We usually get three different groups coming in close, the 27s, 64s and 65s.

“The 64s and 65s used to be one group but with them having calves they got so big they split up into two. It’s probably going to happen to the 27s too in a year or so.

“If their numbers are reducing it helps us understand if they’re struggling. This shows that they’re actually quite healthy and doing well.”

Moray Firth whales and dolphins take Steve across the world

Soon after embracing his passion as an enthusiastic amateur while working as a window cleaner, Steve took the plunge to make it a career.

He got qualified as a boat operator and now takes whale watching tours on the West Coast with Gairloch Hebridean Whale Cruises.

He said: “It’s a bit different with me. Usually you get a boat operator, usually a fisherman, who knows a little bit about whales.

“I’m someone who knows about whales who is also qualified to operate a boat.”

His adventurous spirit has now carried him as far as the Falkland Islands, where he secured a job operating boats on a project monitoring Sei whales.

He’s also run Orca tours in Scandinavia and will soon be heading to the Arctic on a similar scheme to monitor polar bears.

What gives him the greatest thrill of all though is seeing the joy of someone’s face after spotting their first Killer Whale.

Orca close to rocks with large ship in background.
Steve Truluck now dedicates himself to helping others spot their first Orca. Image: Steve Truluck at Sea

Steve said: “It took me three years to see one. I was always in the right place at the wrong time, or out at the right time but in just the wrong place.

“They’re the pinnacle for me. They’re the apex predator, there’s something incredible about them.

“When I did eventually see one there were tears from me and the people I was with, because they knew how long I’d been looking.

“I’ll never be able to get that feeling back again, but the closest you can get is giving that same feeling to other people.”