The 9 Coolest Marine Animals You Didn’t Know You Could See in the UK
Dolphins! Seahorses! Mermaids(ish)!
The ocean is an amazing place full of incredible species - and you might be surprised by how many of your favourite marine creatures can be spotted off the UK's coastline!
Here’s our round-up of the nine coolest marine animals you can see in UK waters and, with a little help from the lovely Emily at The Wildlife Trusts, tips on the best places to see them.
Of the seven species of marine turtle, five have been recorded in the UK. The most frequently spotted is the leatherback: the largest turtle on Earth, which grows up to two metres long. They’ve been around for 150 million years and were around when the T-Rex roamed the planet!
This endangered species can be seen off the South and West coasts of Britain and Ireland in August and September, where they travel to feed on jellyfish. If you spot one, help marine conservation efforts by reporting it to the Marine Conservation Society and refer to the Turtle Code (not the Teenage one, natch) if you encounter a sick or entangled turtle.
We’ve all seen these adorable critters on wildlife documentaries about the Arctic and Antarctic but did you know the UK is home to two different types of seal: grey seals and common seals. In fact, nearly half the world’s grey seal population lives in the UK.
From November to January, see them in the Farne Islands in Northumberland, Norfolk’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve or Lincolnshire’s Donna Nook National Nature Reserve. For year-round sightings, try Godrevy Point in Cornwall, West Hoyle Sandbank in Wirral and the Pembrokeshire and Anglesey coastlines.
Even if you didn’t read Puffin books as a child, you’ll be familiar with this distinctive looking bird with its black back, white tummy and cute, colourful bill. Puffins visit our shores in late spring and early summer to breed in huge colonies.
You’ll have a good chance of seeing them in the Farne Islands and Coquet Island in Northumberland, Bempton Cliffs or Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire, the Isle of May in, Fife, Scotland, and the Shetland and Orkney Islands.
You probably know the male seahorse is the one that gets pregnant (what a champ) but did you know their scientific name (Hippocampus) means ‘horse caterpillar’? Seahorses are incredibly difficult to find in the wild but two species - the spiny seahorse and short-snouted seahorse - live in seagrass beds or on seaweeds in Studland Bay, Dorset, Bembridge in the Isle of Wight and around the Shetland Isles.
The basking shark is the world's second largest fish after the whale shark. These harmless giants filter 2,000 cubic metres of water every hour - the equivalent of an Olympic sized swimming pool - looking for zooplankton to eat.
Basking sharks follow plankton to British waters each summer. Try to spot them in Cornwall from May, in Mounts Bay and the Isle of Man until July and Oban, Tiree and Coll in August as they travel up the West coast. If you see a basking shark, watch from a respectful distance of more than 100m so as not to disturb their feeding.
They might be called ‘killer whales’ but, according to the WWF, orcas are actually the largest members of the dolphin family. Wild orcas don’t pose a threat to humans and many experts believe their name ‘killer whale’ actually originated as ‘whale killer’ because ancient sailors noticed them hunting and killing whales.
There are two species of orca found in the UK: the West coast population lives in British and Irish waters while the other community roams across the North-Eastern Atlantic, visiting the coasts of North-East Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. The different communities stay in their own areas and never interact - they’re not even closely related.
Dolphins aren’t just cute - they’re also highly intelligent mammals: their ratio of brain mass to total body mass is second only to that of humans.
One of the most popular places in the UK to see bottlenose dolphins is Moray Firth in Scotland and its thought that dolphin-watching tourism contributes around £4m each year to the Scottish economy. The bottlenose dolphin population here, which is the most Northerly in the world, has thick blubber to keep them warm in our cold waters and are much larger than dolphins living in warmer climates.
Let’s be honest, the sunfish, the world’s largest bony fish, looks weird af. This funny-looking fish can be spotted off the coast of Cornwall, Pembrokeshire, the Isle of Man or Inner Hebrides during the summer.
OK, it’s not an actual mermaid’s purse, obviously. This is the name given to the egg cases of sharks, skates and rays which look like dark, tough, leathery pouches. They can be found washed up on any UK beach. If you uncover any, log your find to help the Shark Trust expand their research database.
Written by Melissa Hobson