Marine Wildlife

To us here in the UK (and that's most of our website visitors) we can be pretty blasé about our own wildlife while thinking that the animals in other countries are more "exotic". I would put a lot of that down to familiarity as deer, foxes and badgers are a great sight in their natural setting. So where do we find the "exotic" close to home? Well, in the sea, of course!

Most iconic of all the animals in the sea are dolphins, and they're surprisingly common around the coast of the British Isles. It's so sad that many people would go all the way to Florida to see captive animals performing in a concrete tank, when there are dolphins roaming free right here on our doorstep. DolphinsThere are many places all the way up the west coast of Great Britain and around Ireland where you can go on dolphin-watching boat trips. What makes it all the more rewarding is the obvious enjoyment of the dolphins riding the bow-wave of a boat. They will come rushing in from half a mile away when they hear the sound of an approaching vessel.

Dolphins are quite large animals but they are dwarfed by another native of our coasts, the basking shark. This handsome chap is the second largest fish in the world and can be up to 12m long weighing 6 tonnes. Basking shark Despite the fearsome appearance, the basking shark lives on nothing but plankton, so spends much of its life cruising along just below the surface with its vast mouth agape scooping up its food. Due to their enormous size and the triangular black dorsal fin that often projects above the water, basking sharks are often mistaken for whales (some whales are native to British waters too). Sometimes they can be seen from clifftops but your best chance is to take a boat trip with a reputable wildlife watching company.

Other sharks living in UK waters are more "shark-shaped", ranging from the mighty Porbeagle and Blue sharks down to the more modestly sized dogfish. Living further offshore and at greater depths they are rarely seen but the evidence of their existence turns up routinely on beaches in the form if their discarded egg-cases, commonly known as "mermaid's purses".

Everyone knows and loves the puffin, a comically charming little bird with a dinner jacket plumage and a large colourful bill. PuffinsPuffins spend the winter at sea and return to cliffs and small islands to breed, so on the face of it the chance of seeing them close-up seems remote. Pick your time and place though and you could be walking around with puffins waddling by virtually at your feet. From April to July there are 20,000 pairs nesting on Skomer Island just off the Pembrokeshire coast and they are far too busy caring for their little pufflings to worry about a few visitors strolling around. Boat trips go each day from Martin's Haven. It's just a 15 minute ride across to the island and it's also a chance to see Manx shearwaters, dolphins, harbour porpoises, seals, razorbills, gannets, fulmars and the unique Skomer vole.

Seals are the easiest of all our marine wildlife to observe. For a start, they are widely distributed all around the coasts so are likely to turn up almost anywhere around Great Britain and Ireland. Their pathetic belly-flopping motion on land contrasts vividly with their speed and grace when they are in the water. Seals Neverthless they seem quite content to haul out on a beach or even on harsh and seemingly jagged rocks. Although slightly more remote places seem to be favoured (Lindisfarne Island off Northumberland, Caldey Island in Pembrokeshire and Blakeney beach in Norfolk spring to mind) they will also be seen frequently in harbours, perhaps attracted by fishermen disposing of their by-catch. In an age when we worry about declining populations, the Atlantic grey seal is a success story. In the early 20th century numbers were down to about 500, yet today it's estimated that there are more than 120,000 grey seals in Britain, representing 40% of the world's population and 95% of the European population.

The best places to see our marine wildlife are Cornwall, Devon, Pembrokeshire, SW Ireland, Northumberland.

11 Jul 2023, 10:57

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