Cornwall is well known for its diverse marine life, with a variety of species found in its waters such as dolphins, grey seals, harbour porpoises, and basking sharks. The coast of Cornwall is a great place to witness these gentle giants in their natural habitat.
In this blog post, we'll explore the best places to see dolphins in Cornwall, offering you the best chance of observing these fascinating marine mammals up close.
There are numerous locations along the stunning Cornish coastline that provide ideal vantage points to observe these fascinating marine mammals. Read on to find out where!
You might also like my article on where to see seals in Cornwall!
Species of Dolphins in Cornwall
Some of the most common species of dolphin found in Cornish waters include:
- Common Dolphins - These dolphins are well known for their playful nature and acrobatics. Easily distinguished by their hourglass pattern on their sides, common dolphins are social creatures often found in large groups.
- Bottlenose Dolphins - Larger and more robust than their common counterparts, bottlenose dolphins have a distinctive curved profile on their dorsal fin. They are also known for their intelligence and strong ties with other individuals in their pod.
- Risso's Dolphins - Characterised by their rounded head and unique scarring patterns, Risso's dolphins are typically found in deeper waters. They tend to be more elusive to spot than other species, but can occasionally be seen in the coastal areas of Cornwall.
- White-beaked Dolphins - With a stocky body and white patches on their beak and dorsal fin, white-beaked dolphins prefer cooler waters. Although not as frequently seen, they can sometimes be observed around Cornwall's northern coasts.
Best times to see dolphins in Cornwall
In Cornwall, dolphins can be spotted all year round, but the sightings are most frequent between April and October. The warmer months are ideal for dolphin watching as they are more active during this period.
High tide offers the best views for spotting dolphins, as they tend to come closer to the shore during this time. It's essential to prepare your sea-watching adventure according to the local tide timings to increase your chances of successful sightings.
While boat trips can enhance your experience of dolphin spotting, be sure to choose responsible boat operators who follow appropriate guidelines to avoid disturbing them in their natural habitat.
Dolphin watching tips and etiquette
When embarking on a dolphin-watching adventure in Cornwall, it's essential to follow a few key guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
First and foremost, adhere to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust's recommendations for responsible dolphin and marine wildlife watching. These guidelines include:
- Maintain a safe distance from the animals, allowing them to approach you rather than chase after them.
- Limit the time spent observing individual animals or groups to avoid disturbing their natural behaviours.
- Never attempt to touch, feed or swim with the dolphins, as this can be harmful to both humans and the animals.
When selecting a dolphin-watching tour or boat trip, opt for operators with a reputation for responsible practices and adhering to wildlife regulations. In addition, it's crucial to:
- Stay quiet during sightings, as loud noises and sudden movements can startle the dolphins and other marine life.
- Dispose of litter and waste responsibly, making sure to not contribute to pollution in the marine environment.
- Report any sightings of injured, entangled, or stranded dolphins to the appropriate authorities or local wildlife organisations.
Remember that patience is key when it comes to dolphin watching, as these intelligent and playful creatures are wild animals with unpredictable behaviours. Keep your expectations in check and appreciate the opportunity to observe them in their natural habitat.
Dolphin protection and conservation
In Cornwall, various organisations are actively working to protect and conserve the local dolphin populations. One such group is the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, which is dedicated to preserving marine life and its habitats through research, monitoring, and education initiatives.
A significant challenge faced by dolphins in Cornwall and other regions is the risk posed by marine pollution. Some initiatives, such as beach cleans and waste management campaigns, are carried out to tackle this issue by raising public awareness and encouraging responsible behaviour among residents and tourists alike.
Another aspect of dolphin protection in Cornwall is the promotion of responsible wildlife watching. Boat operators and wildlife tour companies are encouraged to follow a strict Wise Wildlife Safe Operator Scheme (WiSe), which aims to minimise the disturbance of dolphins and other marine animals during wildlife encounters. The WiSe scheme offers practical training and guidelines for boat operators and tour companies to ensure that marine wildlife is respected and protected.
Lastly, ongoing research and monitoring of dolphin populations play a vital role in understanding their behaviour, population dynamics, and threats they face. Various organisations collaborate with citizen scientists and volunteers, who assist in collecting and analysing data regarding dolphin sightings and behaviour patterns. This information aids in the development of effective conservation strategies and informs decision-makers about the essential measures required to protect these magnificent creatures in Cornwall's waters.
Top places to see dolphins in Cornwall
There are several land-based spots in Cornwall where you can enjoy watching dolphins. Watching dolphins from these locations allows you to observe these creatures in their natural habitat without disturbing them.
Land's End, located at the westernmost point of Cornwall, is a popular spot to catch sight of dolphins, minke whales, and even the occasional basking shark.
The best time to visit is during the warmer summer months when dolphin pods are more active in the Atlantic Ocean. The South West Coast Path offers stunning sea views and excellent vantage points to spot these magnificent creatures.
Dolphins can be spotted riding the waves around Sennen Cove throughout the year, although sightings are more common between April and October. During high tide, the best vantage point is from the car park, while at low tide, these majestic mammals may even venture closer to the beach to feed.
Lizard Point, the southernmost point of the UK, is another great location to see dolphins and other marine wildlife. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust recommends this spot for sightings of common dolphins, harbour porpoises, and even leatherback turtles. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars for the best views!
Mount's Bay boasts several locations for watching marine life, such as Battery Rocks near Jubilee Pool and Long Rock Beach. Additionally, there are several certified Wildlife Safe (WiSe) tour boat operators in the area, providing excellent opportunities for enthusiastic wildlife lovers to witness Cornwall's dolphins up close and personal.
St Ives Bay
St Ives Bay, on the north coast of West Cornwall, offers a fantastic opportunity to see pods of dolphins. The rocky outcrops are prime locations to spot these awe-inspiring marine mammals. The warmer months are the best time to visit, as the clear water and Manx shearwaters attract dolphins and other sea creatures.
Pendennis Point, overlooking Falmouth Bay, is a prominent position to observe common and white-beaked dolphins, as well as grey seals and harbour porpoises. The local Seaquest Southwest team often records sightings of these marine species, making it one of the best locations in Cornwall to see these animals in action.
Dolphins are regularly spotted off the coast of North Cornwall, particularly around Port Isaac and Pentire Point. Walk the South West Coast Path and keep your eyes peeled.
Dolphin Boat Trips
The best way to see dolphins up close in their natural habitat is by taking a boat trip with Padstow Sealife Safaris. These guided tours provide a great way to learn about Cornwall's marine environment and local dolphins, as well as catch sight of fin whales, sharks, and the more elusive Risso's dolphins.
There are also dolphin-watching boat trips operating out of Newquay and Rock on the north coast, and Marine Discovery Penzance operates out of Penzance in West Cornwall.
Frequently asked questions
The best time to see them is early in the morning or late in the afternoon
The warmer summer months (June, July, August) are best for dolphin watching as they are more active during this period.
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