Summer spotting

PUBLISHED: 11:56 12 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:56 12 July 2013

Seaquest Southwest public at  watch event, photo by Dan Murphy

Seaquest Southwest public at watch event, photo by Dan Murphy


The coastline of Cornwall rarely fails to amaze – the awe-inspiring cliffs, the fantastic beaches and the rolling countryside are deservedly renowned, drawing in visitors year after year. However, it is the marine life, the dolphins, whales and basking sharks regularly spotted from cliff tops, harbour-sides and from ferries and boats in Cornwall that often provide some of the most unexpected and memorable of sights.

In fact, it proves so wonderful and interesting that the Living Seas Team at Cornwall Wildlife Trust are often inundated with emails, phone calls and photos in the post from the public who are captivated by the Cornish natural world and keen to learn more about it. So here are some of the key species that are often sighted around our coastline.

Bottlenose dolphin

Probably the best known species of cetacean is the bottlenose dolphin, which was popularised by TV programmes such as Flipper, who soon became a household name. At up to four metres long, the bottlenose dolphin is one of the largest dolphins commonly seen around the Cornish coastline. We have a resident pod of between 8 and 12 animals that are regularly seen close inshore around the coast. Although they are highly mobile and travel all around the coast, good spots to see them include the Camel Estuary, St. Ives Bay, Sennen and Lands End, Mounts Bay and Falmouth Bay.

Harbour porpoise

The harbour porpoise is smaller than most dolphins at about 1.5m long, with a compact body and distinctive short triangular dorsal fin. These shy mammals are often hard to see as they spend little time at the surface, make little splash, and are rarely acrobatic. They used to be called ‘piffers’ by locals due to the noise they make when breathing at the surface. They can often be seen in the tidal streams and strong currents around headlands such as north of the Brisons at Cape Cornwall and around Land’s End.

Grey seals

Grey seals are the most visitor friendly of our marine mammals and are as curious in watching us as we are of them. They are often seen bobbing like corks in the water, watching what’s going on, or hauled out on rocks sun-bathing. They can best be seen at island haul-out sites at Looe Island Nature Reserve, Saddle Rock, Godrevy Island, the Carracks, Longships Reef, Gwennap Island, Mousehole Island and Black Rock in Falmouth Bay. Although frequently seen it is important not to disturb these animals, as with any others, when watching them.

Basking sharks

The basking shark is the ultimate gentle giant - growing up to 12 meters long and weighing up to seven tonnes, this is the second largest known shark in the world and a resident of our British waters. Although generally elusive in nature, these magnificent creatures are often seen cruising our waters, specifically in the spring and summer months, in search of their food source: zooplankton (tiny, microscopic animals floating in the water column). Although usually fairly torpid in behaviour, basking sharks have been known to get agitated and even to breach out in the open water. Good spots to look for basking sharks are headlands such as Gwennap Head, Lands End, or off the Lizard.

Join the quest

Seaquest Southwest (SQSW) is a marine recording project run jointly by Cornwall and Devon Wildlife Trusts, which collects sightings of all marine creatures from the public. It uses this valuable information sent in by the public, and from such a simple scheme comes effective and worthwhile research. All data is stored within the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS), and shared both regionally and nationally for the better conservation of the species and habitats that exist in our marine environment. A marine sighting can tell biologists much about the state of our seas. It can tell us what species are using our coastline, their population and distribution, and interesting information about their behaviour. It can even tell us about weather systems, pollution problems or climate change. n

Seaquest Southwest has a busy programme of exciting events across the county in 2013, from public sea watches to ‘Seaquest Sundays’ surveys.


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