Posted by: orcaweb | June 14, 2017

The Best UK Whale and Dolphin Spotting Spots!

Sightings update: This week I finally got my first glimpse of the resident bottlenose dolphins that live on the Brittany coastline between the Ile de Sein and island of Ouessant. This area is called The Iroise Sea, and in October 2007 is was designated as the first French Maritime Natural Park. It is always a real joy to sail through this area, and the regular presence of bottlenose dolphins, and many seals and seabirds, demonstrates how rich in biodiversity it is; this place is blossoming with life as a result of its protected status.


Common dolphins very close to the ship

The Bay of Biscay has been unbelievably quiet on the whale front this last week! I am hoping that soon the migrating fin whales will arrive to impress all our enthusiastic passengers. But for now the common dolphins are still holding the fort and keeping the public engaged and inspired! We also saw an unidentified dolphin which we only discovered later from our photos was actually a pilot whale! Sneaky!


A very distant sneaky pilot whale! So sneaky!


A little trail of common dolphins

Many of our passengers have their first cetacean encounters on board with us and subsequently they are keen to seek out more marine wildlife experiences when they return home to Britain. So below I have put together some information on six of the best places in the UK for whale and dolphin watching:

  • Cardigan Bay

This is an extremely rich area for nature on the coast of Wales, which is home to bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins can even be seen from land as they come very close to the shore.

  • The Moray Firth, Aberdeen

This is certainly one of the best places to see bottlenose dolphins. There is a resident population in Inverness at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle.

  • West Coast of Scotland – Hebrides

My first ever encounter with cetaceans was in the Isle of Skye. I went on a boat trip that turned out to be a wildlife lover’s heaven! As well as spotting many seals and seabirds, including three white tailed sea eagles, a pod of seven gorgeous little harbour porpoises swam right past our boat. They were so close we could hear them puffing out the water from their blow holes. On that same trip we also saw a Minke whale and since then I have seen them many times on Skye from land. These experiences have been echoed in locations throughout the western islands of Scotland; friends have told me stories of whale and dolphin encounters from the Isle of Mull, the Shetland islands, the Isle of Rum and Isle of Coll.

  • Donna nook

Although ORCA is predominantly a cetacean focused charity, we do record all marine mammals we see on our surveys, including seals. I am a huge fan of seals and my interest in them began when I went to Donna Nook, a big stretch of coastline in Lincolnshire. Every autumn around three thousand grey seals haul out onto the beach to give birth to their pups and mate. It’s a brilliant way to get excellent close up views of seals without disturbing them.

  • Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, and the Scilly isles

Common dolphins are a regular site off the south west coast and pods of up to two hundred have been seen in the past on boat trips. Bottlenose dolphins are also present in this area as well as many grey and common seals. Devon had an unusual visitor this year; a humpback whale was spotted from the shore. Unfortunately this whale became entangled in lobster pot lines twice, but thankfully was rescued both times by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR). Lyme Bay in Dorset is home to a pod of white beaked dolphins, while the unusual Risso’s dolphin is often seen on crossings to the Scilly isles.  The ORCA surveys from Penzance to St. Mary are the second highest diversity route (after the Bay of Biscay of course!).

  • East Coast of Yorkshire

Places like Flamborough Head in Yorkshire are excellent for watching creatures like Minke whales from the shore. One of my favourite places in the world is Bempton Cliffs, just a few miles along the coast from Flamborugh, where there is a giant breeding colony of gannets. Here you can watch these huge birds bringing in fish for their young and you have the chance of spotting some cetaceans.


These are just a handful of the UK sites where whale and dolphin watching is possible!

In your cetacean watching pack I would recommend packing:

  • Binoculars (ORCA sells some excellent binoculars in our online shop).
  • A Cetacean ID Book (I highly recommend Mark Carwardine’s Guide to Whale Watching in Britain and Europe, also available online here).
  • A notepad to record your sightings. We at ORCA would love to hear about what you’ve seen!
  • A camera to help you identify distant animals and capture magical moments!
  • Loads of food! I never leave the house to go wildlife watching without a full on picnic to keep me going!

Good luck on your whale watching adventures!

Jess, ORCA Wildlife Officer.



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