In a four year study of bottlenose dolphins along the southern shore of the outer Moray Firth we show that whilst dolphins were encountered along the majority of the survey area, there was a significant preference to the western section, which is the area directly adjacent to the current Special Area of Conservation (SAC). We also show that 80% of all groups encountered (N = 62) included calves, and that neonates were seen throughout the months of July, August, September and October. The mark–recapture abundance estimates for the southern outer Moray Firth were variable, with a highest annual estimate of 108 (95% CI = 79–129), which is similar to previous estimates for the number of animals using the entire Moray Firth. In contrast, the lowest annual estimate of 61 (95% CI = 48–74) suggests that not all individuals regularly use the entire geographical range of the population and that individual ranging patterns may vary across years. The findings of this study indicate that the southern outer Moray Firth is an important area for this population and that it should not simply be considered as a corridor to other areas of more importance. For this reason, we believe that further consideration of the current management of this population in areas outside the existing SAC is necessary.