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Being an island nation, the UK is home to some of the world’s well-known marine wildlife. The sea life here is very diverse and rich, making it an ideal destination for those who love marine animals.
What sea animals would you see during your visit? Where are the best spots to watch these UK marine wildlife animals?
Seabirds are birds that live near a marine environment or spend most of their lives at sea. This is why they have certain features or traits which help them survive the cold and harsh environment in this type of habitat. For example, compared to inland birds, they have more feathers relative to their body size which helps keep them insulated. These feathers are also waterproof and helps with buoyancy. In terms of colour, their plumage is typically light under and dark above. This countershading colouration helps in keeping them camouflaged from predators.
The UK hosts different species of seabirds. Lundy Island, which means ‘Puffin Island’ in Old Norse, is an excellent place to spot these penguin-like animals. You can also find manx shearwater and razorbills here. Meanwhile, South Devon is where you’ll find guillemot, the biggest auk in the UK. If it is gannets you prefer to see, go to Bass Rock, the home of the biggest gannet colony in the world. Lastly, to watch amazing acrobatic moves from the choughs, head to South Stack Cliffs or Land’s End.
Whales belong to the same order as dolphins and porpoises – order Cetacea. Considered as one of the smartest animals in the world, they employ sophisticated hunting techniques that allow them to successfully catch preys.
Some might think that whale-watching is not something that can be done in the UK. This is not true! Some species of whales regularly visit the country’s coastlines, especially in Scotland. From April to September, you are going to find long-finned pilot whales on Minch strait, between the Outer Hebrides and northwest of Scotland. For Minke whales, the east coast of Shetland Islands is where you’ll spot them from May to September.
Sharks are one of the most feared marine animals. This is because they are often depicted as ferocious, human-eating fish. While there are incidents of sharks attacking humans, their diet do not really include people. They mainly eat invertebrates like clams and squids and fish. Despite their bad reputation, many remain fascinated about this fish.
Just like whales, many would not think that they’d find sharks in the UK. This is why news about shark-sightings in the country surprise a lot of people. While seeing them is not common in Britain, this does not mean that there are no sharks in the UK. In fact, there are around 21 species of sharks that reside in British waters throughout the year. There also seasonal and occasional visitors.
One of the shark species seen on the British Isles is the basking shark which is the second largest fish. During the summer, take a boat ride along the southwest of Cornwall or stay at a cliff top like at Land’s End to see basking shark. Meanwhile, its northern coast is where you will see the blue shark. There are even companies that offer close-up encounter with these predators.
Porpoises are often mistaken as dolphins. However, compared to dolphins, porpoises bear grins which are smaller and shorter. Their teeth resemble a spade while dolphin’s are cone-like. Also, porpoises have stockier bodies.
There is only one porpoise species which inhabit European waters – the harbour porpoise. When it breathes, this animal makes a sneeze-like puffing sound; hence, it is also called ‘puffing pig’.
They can be easily spotted from headlands around the British coasts such Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire and Mount’s Bay in Cornwall. They are also a common sight during ferry trips to the Isle of Sicilly or Bay of Biscay.
Dolphins are probably the most popular marine mammals in the UK. They are the favourites of many marine wildlife watchers because they are playful and agile. They can be seen swimming in a synchronised manner or leaping out of the water.
There are different species of dolphins in the UK – bottlenose, white-beaked, Risso’s and short-beaked common dolphins. Of these, the bottlenose is the species most familiar to most people. As their name suggests, their nose/beak is shaped like a bottle. During the months of June to August, they are usually seen at Cardigan Bay. If you want to see them in January to April, head to Land’s End.
The short-beaked common dolphin, the most common and abundant dolphin in the world, are usually seen at Land’s End and Lundy Island. They can be seen in these areas all year round. Meanwhile, sightings of the white-beaked dolphin are common during the months of July to September in the east coast of Shetland.
An orca population, composed of eight whales, is found on the west coast of Scotland. Unfortunately, not a single calf has been born to this pod in the past 25 years. In addition, no new whale has joined the family. If circumstances do not change in the coming years (and with members dying), scientists fear that UK’s only resident orca population would become extinct.
The two resident seal species in the UK are the harbour or common and grey seals. They are fairly abundant in the country. In fact, half of the global population of grey seals are found in British waters.
While they can be seen any time of the year, your chances of spotting seals in the UK is higher during the moulting and breeding season since they haul out during this time. For the common seal, their moulting period is from August to September while their breeding period is from June to August. Grey seals moult between the months of February to April and breed from September to December.
Both species can be found in Murlough National Nature Reserve in Northern Island. Other places where you’ll see harbour seals are Northumberland, Farne Islands, Portrack Marsh and Isle of May. Grey seals are abundant in the east coast of the England. Some of the best spots to find them are Angel Bay, New Quay Harbour, Land’s End and Cardigan Bay.
Image Attribution: Photograph by NOAA Photo Library (anim1057) [CC BY 2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Resource: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APilot_whale.jpg
Image Attribution: Photograph by Andy Stephenson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Resource: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChoughs_at_The_Chasms_-_geograph.org.uk_-_25498.jpg