Species Info and Interesting Facts...

Well this is our species information and interesting facts page, it's full of all sorts of stuff on the animals we are most likely to encounter on the trips. You can find information such as what months are best to see them, life expectancy, how to identify them and conservation status, along with other random snippets of useful information... you never know when it might come in handy in that pub quiz.

 

Common Dolphin

These energetic dolphins are often spotted in large groups which will approach boats, bowriding and leaping alongside. At sea, they can form superpods - huge groups made up of thousands of individuals!

Statistics

Length: up to 2.7m

Weight: up to 150kg

Average Lifespan: up to 35 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, listed under CITES Appendix II and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Also protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997

When to see

January to December

About

Common Dolphins (also referred to as short-beaked common dolphins) are an offshore species, but often come close to shore to feed. They are highly social and normally found in groups, travelling at speed and frequently leaping from the water. They feed mainly on fish and will work together to herd their prey into a ball.

How to identify

A slender dolphin, they are dark grey above and whiter below. Common Dolphins have a distinctive hourglass pattern on their sides, including an obvious yellow-cream area starting behind the long, narrow beak. The dorsal fin is tall and triangular and curves slightly backwards.

Distribution

Found all around the UK, most common off South and West coasts and offshore.

Habitats

Did you know?

Common dolphins are fast! They can reach swimming speeds of around 30 miles per hour when chasing food or bowriding alongside boats.

 

 

Bottlenose Dolphin

 
The largest and most commonly sighted dolphin in British seas. UK bottlenose dolphins are the biggest in the world - their large size helps them cope with our chilly waters!
 
Statistics

Length: up to 4m

Weight: 500kg

Average Lifespan: 45-50 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, listed under CITES Appendix II and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Also protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995

When to see

January to December

About

The most familiar of dolphins and the most likely to be seen from British shores, the bottlenose dolphin is found throughout the world's oceans, apart from at the poles. Closer to home, the best places to see these dolphins are the Moray Firth in Scotland, Cardigan Bay in Wales and the coasts of Cornwall, Northumberland and North Wales. They are highly social, usually found in small groups of up to 15 animals. They are very acrobatic, often jumping out of the water and will readily approach boats to bowride. bottlenose dolphins feed on fish, often working together to hunt.

How to identify

A chunky, fairly plain grey dolphin, darker above and paler below. Their beak is short and stubby and their dorsal fin is large, sickle-shaped and often marked with notches and scratches. Bottlenose dolphins are often sighted close to shore alone or in small groups. Look out for boisterous splashing and breaching - and don't be surprised if they approach your boat to check you out!

Distribution

Found all around the UK, common in the Moray Firth, Cardigan Bay and off Cornwall.

Did you know?

Individal bottlenose dolphins can be recognised from the unique pattern of nicks and notches on their dorsal fin - a bit like a fingerprint! Dolphins can then be tracked over their lifetime using only photos of their fins.

 

White Beaked Dolphin

 
Look out for the distinctive white beak that gives this energetic dolphin its name. Don’t be surprised to see them breach and bowride too!

 

 
Statistics

Length: up to 3.2m long. 

Weight: up to 350kg. 

Lifespan: unknown

Conservation status

Considered to be of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of species, they are protected in the EU under Annex IV of the EU Habitats Directive and listed under Annex II of CITES. In the UK they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.

They are a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

January to December

About

A social species of dolphin, usually found in pods of 5-10 individuals in UK seas; though much larger groups can be seen elsewhere in their range. Like most species of dolphin they are incredibly acrobatic and will often approach boats to bowride. White-beaked dolphins are a subpolar species, common in the cooler waters of the North Atlantic. A small population is found year-round in Lyme Bay, Devon/Dorset and dolphins are spotted close to shore in Northumberland in the summer months. White-beaked Dolphins feed on fish and work together to herd large schools.

How to identify

A large, stocky dolphin with a distinctive white beak. They are black in colour, with a lighter underbelly. A white flash on its sides and back help differentiate from other dolphins. They have a tall curved dorsal fin.

Distribution

The cold temperate waters of the continental shelf and open waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Nationally, populations of white-beaked dolphins can regularly be found in Lyme Bay, around the Hebrides and seasonally off the North East England coast.

Did you know?

White-beaked Dolphins are often sighted with young calves during the summer months in both Lyme Bay and off Northumberland, suggesting these may be important nursery areas.

 

Risso Dolphin

 
Risso’s dolphins are mysterious creatures usually only found in deep, offshore waters.

Statistics

Length: up to 4 metres long

Life span: 20 - 40 years

Conservation status

European Protected Species (EPS)

When to see

January to December. Risso's dolphins might be spotted on the water's surface where they are often active.

About

Sometimes called 'gray dolphins', the Risso's dolphin enjoys deep offshore waters. The scratches on their bodies are believed to be a result of rough behaviour including fighting and catching prey. They have been known to breach clear of the water and slap their heads or tails on the surface!

How to identify

Risso's dolphins have a robust, stocky body and large, blunt heads. They are a whiter colour then other dolphins and can be identified by the scratches and scarring often on their bodies. They have a large sickle shaped dorsal fin and their body colour turns from a dark grey to almost completely white as they get older.

Distribution

UK sightings are most common around Scotland, the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Man. Risso's dolphins can also be spotted around Cornwall, South West and North West Wales and Ireland.

Did you know?

Risso's dolphins feed predominantly on squid and octopus. They hang out in pods of between 10 to 30 and can live for up to 35 years!

 

Harbour Porpoise 

 
The smallest and most numerous UK cetacean. Listen out for the loud "chuff" as they come to the surface to breathe - giving them the nickname "Puffing Pig"!
 
Statistics

Length: 1.4-2m

Weight: 55-65kg

Average Lifespan: up to 20 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, listed under CITES Appendix II and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Also protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996

When to see

January to December

About

Harbour porpoises can be spotted close to shore in relatively shallow water, especially in tidal races and around headlands. They are usually solitary or in small feeding groups of up to 10. They are pretty shy and will avoid boats and jetskis - though they are known to be more curious in some areas around the UK. Harbour Porpoises give birth to a small calf every 1-2 years, normally in early summer.

How to identify

Look out for a small, triangular dorsal fin breaking the surface. Harbour porpoise are small and stocky, with a dark grey back and lighter underbelly. Their faces are rounded and have no beak.

Distribution

Found all around the UK.

Did you know?

Harbour porpoises are eating machines! They are warm-blooded mammals and their small size means they have to feed constantly to keep their body temperature up in our chilly seas. They feed mainly on fish, including sand eels, herring and whiting.

 

Grey Seal

The larger of our two UK seal species, the curious face of a grey seal bobbing in the waves is a familiar sight all around the British Isles. Catch them in profile and you'll see how they got their scientific name, Halichoerus grypus - it means hook-nosed sea pig!

 

 
Statistics

Length: up to 2.6m

Weight: Males up to 300kg, females up to 200kg.

Average Lifespan: 30-40 years

Conservation status

Protected in Britain under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. Also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

When to see

January to December

About

A very large mammal, the grey seal spends most of its time out at sea where it feeds on fish. They are easily spotted at the surface close to shore or 'hauled out' onto rocks and beaches to rest or digest their food. 

 

Grey seals also come ashore to give birth, with large colonies breeding on sandy shores on the east coast of England and on remote beaches and islands elsewhere. Fluffy white pups are born between September and December. Pups remain on land until they have moulted their white coats and trebled their birth weight; at which point they head to the sea to hunt for themselves.

How to identify

The grey seal can be distinguished from the common seal by its larger size and longer head with a sloping 'roman nose' profile. Looking straight on, their nostrils are parallel, rather than v-shaped as in common seals. Mainly grey in colour, the unique pattern of darker blotches and spots can be used to identify individuals.

Distribution

Found all around the UK.

Did you know?

Despite numbers dropping to only 500 in the early 20th century, it's estimated that there are now more than 120,000 grey seals in Britain, representing 40% of the world's population.

 

 

Common Seal

 
The smaller of our two UK seal species, common seals are also known as harbour seals. Despite being called "Common", they are actually less common than grey seals!

 
Statistics

Length: up to 2m

Weight: 65-150kg

Average Lifespan: 20-35 years

Conservation status

Protected in Britain under the Conservation of Seals Act, 1970, and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.

When to see

January to December

About

When not at sea, common seals are found around sheltered shores and estuaries, where they haul out on sandbanks and beaches. When out of the water, they sometimes hold their body in a curved banana position, with their head and tail both in the air at the same time. Like grey seals, they feed on fish, but also eat squid, whelks, crabs and mussels. Common seal pups are born during the summer and can swim when they are only a few hours old!

How to identify

The common seal can be distinguished from the grey seal by its smaller size and shorter head with a more concave forehead. Common seals have V-shaped nostrils. They are very variable in colour, from blonde to black, but generally grey with dark spots.

Distribution

Found around the coasts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Teesmouth and eastern England.

Did you know?

Common seals have been known to swim up rivers in search of their next meal and have even been spotted over a hundred miles upstream!

 

Blue Shark

 
It's easy to see where the Blue Shark got its name from. These sleek, elegant sharks have beautiful metallic blue backs which provide brilliant camouflage out in the open ocean.

Statistics

Length: Up to 3.8m

Conservation status

Globally, the blue shark is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. In the UK, it is a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

June to October

About

The blue shark is an open-ocean (or pelagic) species that visits UK seas in summer months. In the Atlantic, they appear to follow a clockwise route, following the Gulf Stream to the UK from the Caribbean and returning there following the Atlantic North Equatorial Current. Blue sharks are active predators and feed mainly on small fish and squid - though they have been known to take seabirds and other small sharks too. They even feed on fish that live near the seabed and have been recorded at depths of up to 350m. The largest blue shark ever caught in UK seas weighed a whopping 256lbs (116kg) and measured over 9ft (2.74m).

How to identify

A slim torpedo shaped shark with metallic blue colouration on top and white underneath. They have distinctively long pectoral (front) fins.

Distribution

Spotted around the South West coast of England in summer months, normally 10+ miles offshore.

Did you know?

Blue sharks give birth to live babies! The fertilised eggs remain within the mother's uterus where they are nourished by a yolk-sac. Over time, the depleted yolk-sac interlocks with the lining of the mother's uterus which then acts a bit like a mammal's placenta. Blue sharks give birth to an average of 35 pups.

This gentle giant is the largest shark in UK seas, reaching up to 11m in length. There's no need to fear them though, they only eat plankton!

 

 
Statistics

Length: up to 12m 

Weight: up to 6 tonnes 

Average Lifespan: unknown, thought to be around 50 years

Conservation status

The North East Atlantic population are classed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. They are listed under CITES Appendix II and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

When to see

May to September

About

The basking shark is the second largest fish in our oceans - its relative the whale shark being the biggest. Despite their size, basking sharks only feed on zooplankton which they filter out of the water, swimming slowly back and forth with their enormous mouths wide open. They are most commonly seen in the summer, when they arrive in British waters. Courtship behaviour has been seen off the Isle of Man - so perhaps they arrive here to breed! For your best chance of spotting them, visit Cornwall, the Isle of Man and the Inner Hebrides. They can be seen from cliffs, but your best chance is to take a boat trip with a reputable wildlife watching company.

How to identify

The large, black, triangular dorsal fin moves slowly through the water, with the tail tip and bulbous snout often visible above the waves too. The basking shark has a massive, grey body and swims with its cavernous mouth agape.

Distribution

Found all around our coasts, but most frequently sited around the south-west of England, Wales, Isle of Man and west coast of Scotland.

Did you know?

The basking shark may be huge but we still know very little about this elusive giant. Satellite tracking has shown that they can migrate long distances in the winter, with some showing up off the Azores and even Newfoundland. However, some fishermen have reported seeing them in midwinter in the UK and they sometimes wash up dead in the winter after storms.

 

Basking Shark

 

 

Thresher Shark

 
The thresher shark is a migratory species and passes through UK waters in the summer months. If you’re lucky, you might see this magnificent shark jump high out of the water in to the air. 

 
Statistics

Length: Up to 450 cm
Weight: Up to 340 kg
Average Lifespan: They live for up to 22 years.

Conservation status

The thresher shark is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.

When to see

Present in the summer months

About

The thresher shark spends most of its time in the deep waters of the open sea, rarely straying into coastal areas. To survive in these colder waters, they have evolved to be endothermic. This means that they can keep their body temperature higher than the temperature of the surrounding water. They do this through a specialised heat exchange system, which allows them to conserve heat produced through internal body mechanisms such as metabolism or muscle shivering.

How to identify

A large shark, with the "classic shark shape" - a torpedo-shaped body, large dorsal fin and large pectoral fins. The thresher shark is easily told from other sharks by the long upper lobe of the tail, which can be as long as the shark's body.

Distribution

Found in tropical and temperate seas around the world, including the UK.

Did you know?

Thresher sharks use their extremely long tail to hunt. They herd smaller fish into tight shoals, swim at them and thrash their tail like a whip, stunning some of the fish and making them easy to catch.

 

Minke Whale

 
The UK's smallest whale, the minke whale, is notoriously inquisitive around boats and is even known to breach clear of the water. Beware though - their fragrant breath has given them the nickname Stinky Minkes!

 
Statistics

Length: 7-9m

Weight: 5-10 tons

Lifespan: 40-50 years

Conservation status

Considered of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of species and a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

January to December

About

The Northern minke whale, most often referred to as the minke whale in the UK, is found throughout the oceans of the Northern Hemisphere. They are markedly smaller than the other baleen whales found in UK seas, though it is sometimes difficult to judge size at sea! Minke whales are generally spotted alone or in small feeding groups feasting on schools of fish or krill. They are what is known as a "gulp feeder", meaning they take a huge gulp of fish and push the seawater out through the baleen plates that line their mouths. You can sometimes spot minke whales lunge feeding into a school of fish near the surface.

How to identify

A small streamlined rorqual whale reaching an adult length of 7-9m. Minke whales have a sleek, dark grey body and a tall sickle shaped fin that curves backwards. Look out for the distinctive white "armbands" on the pectoral fins (front flippers). Their blow is weak or invisible.

Distribution

Can be spotted in near-shore waters around the UK, though rare in the Southern North Sea and English Channel.

Did you know?

Minke whale vocalisations can be as loud as 150 decibels - that’s the same as a jet plane taking off! This allows them to communicate over long distances underwater.

 

 Sunfish

 
The ocean sunfish is the largest bony fish on the planet and visits UK seas during the summer months to feast on jellyfish.

 
Statistics

Length: up to 4m

Weight: up to 2.3 tonnes

Conservation status

Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

When to see

June to September

About

The ocean sunfish is an odd looking fish. It is huge, flat and circular - looking pretty much like a giant swimming head. It has a stiff fringe of skin instead of a tail, 2 small pectoral fins and an elongated dorsal fin and anal fin that look a bit like wings. Their scientific name of Mola means millstone in latin - and it's easy to see where it came from! They are often spotted resting on their sides at the surface of the sea, supposedly basking in the sunshine - which is where its English name of sunfish comes from. It has been suggested that this basking behaviour is to help the Sunfish raise its body temperature after diving down to cooler waters to feed. The fin at the surface can easily be mistaken for a shark, but once up close they are unmistakeable. Sunfish feed on jellyfish and salps - as such they are known as jellivores!

How to identify

A giant grey fish that looks a lot like a swimming head. They are round, reasonably flat and have no noticeably tail - simply a frill of skin. They have 2 long fins - the dorsal fin and the anal fin which they use like paddles to steer and wings to swim. These fins can sometimes be seen flapping at the surface.

Distribution

An increasingly common visitor to southern and western parts of the UK in summer months.

Did you know?

In most other languages, these docile giants are called Moonfish - it is easy to see why!

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