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Published on : 21st May 2018

How to Watch Dolphins and Whales

Bottlenose dolphins

Watching dolphins and whales is on a lot of nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts’ bucket list. This is not surprising given how impressive these marine mammals are. The sight of these enormous creatures breaching or bow-riding is simply breath-taking.

Fortunately, you do not need to go out of the country to cross off this entry on your bucket list. Dolphins and whales, as well as other marine mammals like porpoises and seals, ply British waters. In fact, there are three known resident pods of dolphins in the UK.

According to records, there are 29 dolphin and whale species in Britain. Some of the dolphin species found here are bottlenose, common, orca and the Risso’s dolphin. The whale species include humpback, sperm, fin and minke whales.

If you wish to go dolphin and whale watching in Britain, below are some tips on how you can successfully make this happen.

When to Watch Dolphins and Whales in the UK

These marine mammals may be seen in British waters all year round. However, the best time to watch them is during spring and summer. Sightings of these large creatures are very common from April to November. In some areas, dolphins can be seen daily in summer. Furthermore, they can be spotted any time of the day.

Where to Watch Dolphins and Whales in the UK

There are different great places to spot these sea mammals in Britain. For dolphins, you can try places where resident pods are known to live. As mentioned earlier, there are three known dolphin pods residing in the UK. The largest pod, which is composed of bottlenoses, is found in Cardigan Bay. Reports show that over 300 dolphins swim in these waters. New Quay, Wales is a very popular place in this area for dolphin watching. What’s more is that the bay also features other amazing sea creatures like porpoises, whales, seals and even sharks.

New Quay

Moray Firth in Scotland is home to another pod of bottlenose dolphins. Composed of around 200 individuals, the dolphins at Moray Firth are noted to be larger, and they have thicker blubbers compared to others. According to experts, the size of their blubber enables them to adapt to the cold temperatures in the area. When it comes to watching these large dolphins, check out Chanonry Point as these adorable sea animals regularly visit here.

The latest addition to the resident dolphin pod in the UK is the group found in Cornwall. The pod is made up of 28 bottlenoses. This is the first group of this species to reside in English waters. Aside from bottlenoses, common and Risso’s dolphins are also found in the area.

Orcas or killer whales, which are actually dolphins and not whales, are also found in the country. A resident pod of orcas is found at the Hebrides. The only resident pod of orcas in the UK, this group is composed of four females and four males.

Killer whales

As for wild whales, one of the popular places to see them is Scotland. The most common whale species in the UK is the minke whale, a kind of baleen whale. They are usually seen in the Minches, the waters surrounding the mainland and islands like Mull. Meanwhile, migratory humpbacks are occasionally seen in the southern tip of Shetland Islands as well as the Hebrides. There are also reports of humpback whale sightings in Cornwall.

Tips on How to Watch Dolphins and Whales in the UK

You have two options when it comes to watching marine animals in the UK. You can choose to do it land-based or take a boat trip. Land’s End peninsula provides excellent viewing points on land for those who want to spot dolphins and whales in Cornwall. Point Lynas in Anglesey is another hotspot for watching these marine animals and other sea creatures. There’s also Chanonry Point, Aberdeen Harbour and Mull of Oa which are places in Scotland worth checking out for marine mammal watching.

Point Lynas

As for boat trips, there are countless tour operators offering dolphin and whale watching adventures throughout the UK. Depending on the itinerary, the tour may last an hour to two and half hours. Some of these trips include other wildlife sightings such as seabirds. Apart from encountering dolphins and whales up close, you may also see them perform acrobatic tricks like lobtailing, pec-slapping or bow riding.

Having tools like binoculars and spotting scopes, especially if you are watching from land-based vantage points, is also highly recommended to make this activity even more exciting. However, do not be overly reliant on these devices. What’s recommended is to scan the sea with your naked eye and only use the binoculars when you think you spotted a dolphin or a whale.

Lastly, make sure you have patience and perseverance. There’s no sure-fire way of determining whether whales or dolphins are going to be visible on any given day or time. You may see them just a few minutes after arriving at the watch point or it may take hours before they surface. Hence, you need to be patient when doing this activity. If you get tired, take breaks in between – rest your eyes or eat snacks. It’s also best if you go with friends to make the waiting or search less tiring and more fun.

New Quay photo by Charles D P Miller

Point Lynas photo by ARG_Flickr

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