You don’t have to travel to far flung destinations to come face to face with whales, dolphins and other marine creatures. The shores of the UK are home to many species of cetaceans, most of which can only be spotted from boats but several (such as the Cardigan Bay dolphins) that can be glimpsed from the shore. With even the largest creature on the planet occasionally gracing us with its presence (blue whales have very occasionally been spotted in the Irish Sea), the coastline of the UK is filled with opportunities to come face to face with gentle giants.
The shores of Cardigan Bay in south-west Wales are home to the largest pod of dolphins in the British Isles. For most of the year (April to November is best), bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises frolic in the waters here, putting on a spectacular show for visitors. Boat trips take you out to view the friendly creatures up close, but you’re just as likely to see them from perched on top of a cliff gazing out to sea. Marine life enthusiasts can also hope to spot Atlantic grey seals, and there’s even the option to take a boat trip further out into the Irish Sea in hopes of spotting other species of dolphins, Minke whales and Fin whales.
One of the best spots in England to view seals is Blakeney Point in North Norfolk, where both Common and Grey seals can be spotted basking on the sandbanks. The seal colony here numbers over 2,000 during breeding months, with your best chance of spotting Common seal pups June to August and Grey seal pups November to January. The isolation of the sandbanks helps to protect the new born seals, with many adults choosing Blakeney Point as their breeding ground year after year. Regular boat trips take visitors out to watch the seals from a safe distance, although they are very inquisitive and often choose to swim right up to the boats.
Isles of Scilly
If you’d like to get a little more up close and personal to a colony of seals, head to St Martin’s on the Isles of Scilly. Here, a team of professionals will lead visitors on a snorkelling expedition with the local colony of Grey seals, allowing for a completely unique perspective of these magnificent creatures in their natural environment. Don’t be alarmed if they swim right up to you, they’re perfectly used to humans visiting them and are among the friendliest seals in the UK.
The North Minch
The North Minch, located between the north-west Highlands and the Inner Hebrides (including Lewis and Harris) is one of the best places in the UK to spot a diverse range of marine wildlife. An astonishing one third of the whale population in the North Atlantic swim through these waters every year during their migration, allowing lucky visitors to catch a glimpse of Minke and Humpback whales. Sei, Sperm and Fin whales have even occasionally been spotted in the area. Other marine creatures that call these waters home include Common and Grey seals, otters, Basking Sharks, Orcas, Common dolphins and Risso’s dolphins. There are several different boat companies leading trips in the area.
The Shetland Isles
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of a Killer Whale, the far north of Scotland is the place to head. Earlier this year, a pod of seven Orca (the largest of the dolphins, not actually a whale) were spotted just a metre from the shoreline just north of Lerwick. The summer months between May and August are the best time for spotting whales and dolphins with Minke whales, White-Sided dolphins and Pilot whales also occasionally making an appearance. Aside from cetaceans, there are plenty of opportunities to spot friendly otters, and Lerwick Harbour is one of the best places in the entire world to watch both Grey and Common seals from the land at very close proximity. There are so many seals on the beaches that the Shetlands are known as the Islands of the Singing Seals because of the racket they make!