• Home

National Marine Week

Keep an eye out for whales and dolphins this National Marine Week!

Emily Cunningham, our Living Seas Officer, talks about the exciting wildlife living in our seas...

Did you know that more than 20 types of whale and dolphin live in our UK seas?

The scientific name for whales, dolphins and porpoises is cetaceans and they are found in every sea and every ocean in the world. There are even freshwater dolphins that live their whole lives in rivers too! All cetaceans are mammals - so, just like you, they breathe air and have live babies (called calves, just like a cow) which feed on milk.

The seas around the UK are some of the best in the world for whales and dolphins, especially during the summer months when they can be seen close to shore. Next time you're down at the seaside, why not look for them - and don't forget to let us know what you spot!

What should I look out for?

The best days to spot cetaceans are calm days when the sea is very flat. It is best to scan the sea using just your eyes at first and then using binoculars to investigate any suspicious splashing or dark fin shapes. Diving seabirds can be a good sign to look out for, as this normally means there are fish - so there might be cetaceans too!

Although we're lucky to have lots of cetaceans in our seas, they do swim around a lot in search of food so you might not see them every time you're watching. You'll have to be very patient, but getting to see a porpoise or dolphin is really exciting and definitely worth the wait! In the summer months you might even get to see baby porpoises or dolphins, as mothers come closer to shore to give birth and nurse their newborns in sheltered bays.

What might I see?

Harbour Porpoise

Our most commonly seen cetacean, this shy animals is also our smallest. At about 1.7m it is about the same length as the average adult (about the same height as your Mum!). You will see a small triangular fin and a dark grey rounded back as they surface to breathe. They exhale very loudly, so on a calm day you might even hear why they are given the nickname "Puffing Pig"! Porpoises are mostly seen on their own or in very small groups.


Bottlenose Dolphin


This well known dolphin is also our largest dolphin - in fact we have the largest bottlenose dolphins in the world (adults can reach 4m in length, which is about the same length as a Land Rover!). They are highly intelligent and very sociable animals - and are known to approach boats to bowride. Each dolphin has a signature whistle - a bit like you have a name - which they use to tell other dolphins who they are. Calves in particular are very playful and will breach (jump out of the water) - sometimes resulting in a telling off from their Mum for straying too far! Look out for a greyish-brown sickle-shaped fin and often acrobatic behaviour!



Common Dolphin


This smaller dolphin is more often spotted offshire by people on ships, but in the summer months big pods may be seen close to land feeding on huge shoals of fish. It is smaller than the bottlenose dolphin at around 2.7m in length and can be identified by a unique hourglass pattern on their side - including a bright flash of yellow!






More rarely spotted


White Beaked Dolphin


Seen in Lyme Bay and off Northumberland mostly in the summer months, this dolphin has a distinctive white beak and white flash on their side.







Killer Whale or Orca


The killer whale is actually a kind of dolphin! At 9m in length with a 2m tall dorsal fin, you won't confuse these with any other animals! They travel great distances for food, but you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them on their way!



Humpback Whale

Humpbacks are 'baleen whales' which means their mouths are lined with baleen - a bristly material made from the same thing as your hair and fingernails (keratin). This filters the whale's food out of the seawater that it gulps in as it feeds. Humpbacks are slowly returning to our shores after centuries of hunting. They produce a big 'blow' when they breathe at the surface, which can be seen a long way away - followed by a sight of their long knobbling blue-grey back - which doesn't have a proper dorsel fin. They will often breach too - which is an amazing sight to see!

Emily Cunningham, Living Seas Officer