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The Fantastic Animals Found off the Cornish Coastline

December 16, 2020

From the smallest of molluscs to mighty examples like the minke whale, all sorts of amazing marine animals grace the Cornish coastline each year. Whichever part of Cornwall you find yourself in, anyone visiting this beloved region is in for a real treat when heading for its waters.

With its beautiful coastline and diverse range of habitats, the variety of sea life here makes it one of the best places in the British Isles to see marine animals of all kinds. A lot of this is due to the Gulf Stream, which brings a warm current that flows in from the south. This makes Cornish waters the perfect environment for all sorts of oceanic wildlife, including seals, dolphins and porpoises to name but a few.

There are plenty of places around the coast of Cornwall where these animals can be seen in action, whether they’re bobbing near cliffs or making a path in the ocean’s deep. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the coastline’s most incredible animals, along with the best time of the year to visit so you can see them for yourself.

But remember, whenever you head off animal spotting on the Cornish coast (or anywhere), it’s important to be responsible. Make sure you don’t invade habitats, scare the animals, get too close or leave anything behind other than footprints. Happy spotting!

Grey Seals

One of the most beloved sights of Cornwall; the county is home to a thriving grey seal community. Keep an eye out, and you can see these charming guys playing and hunting at sea when it’s high tide, as well as resting on remote beaches, offshore rocks and sea caves so they can digest their food at low tide.

When is the best time to see grey seals in Cornwall?

Generally, grey seals can be seen chilling out around the shoreline all year round, but the pupping season is probably the best time to see them. Starting from as early as mid-September and lasting through to January, you’ll be able to watch mothers play with their pups, whose cute, curious nature is definitely worth seeing in person.

grey seals

Mutton Cove at Godrevy Point, West Cornwall, is one of the region’s best places to see these creatures. In January, upwards of 100 of seals can usually be seen on the cove’s sand and rocky outcrops below.

Basking Sharks

This big beast might look scary, but the massive basking shark is actually a bit of gentle giant. One of only three plankton-eating sharks, they’ll swim away if they see anyone approaching, plus their throats aren’t wide enough to swallow humans anyway, so you’re in no danger if you see one of these graceful, misunderstood creatures nearby.

When is the best time to see basking sharks in Cornwall? 

Basking shark sightings are becoming rarer, which means you’re truly lucky if you manage to spot one. However, they tend to start appearing in May and early June, where their fins and noses can be seen on the surface of the water, sweeping along with their huge open mouths, ready to feed on their favourite meal of plankton. 

Minke Whales

Shy and mostly solitary, the minke whale is the smallest of its kind, although it’s still pretty big if you ask us! Growing up to 10 metres in length, they have hair-like baleen plates (which kind of look like a big comb) rather than teeth. When feeding, they open their mouths wide and expand their pleated throats to take in huge amounts of water, which is then sieved out through the baleen, so it can swallow its food whole.

Minke whales are also big fans of breaching, where they’ll lift the front end of their body high out of the water before they come crashing down and make a huge splash.

When is the best time to see minke whales in Cornwall?

Sightings are most common around April or May up until November, although they can be seen mostly through the year.

minke whale

Spotting a whale certainly takes time and patience; there isn’t a proper way of determining the time of day when they’re visible, and it may take hours before they actually surface!

Dolphins

One of the most incredible inhabitants of Cornwall’s waters, the dolphins here are often of the common or bottlenose variety. They’re both easy to spot thanks to their playful, inquisitive manner and their habit of leaping out of the water as they swim. Both varieties have been shown to swim up very close to boating tours in large groups known as “pods”, allowing visitors to get a closer look at them in their natural habitat.

When is the best time to see dolphins in Cornwall?

Generally, the ideal time to see these charismatic creatures is around the start of the summer towards the end of May and at the beginning of June.

Puffins

With their mix of black and white feathers, brightly coloured bills, orange legs, and cute, waddling walk, puffins certainly stand out here in Cornwall. Found nesting on cliffs and islands, these vibrant visitors may appear a little clumsy on land, but they’re actually highly skilled swimmers, and can dive to depths of 60 metres if they’re feeling peckish and in need of a snack.

puffins

When is the best time to see puffins in Cornwall?

Spending most of the autumn and winter at sea, puffins return to land at the start of spring to breed, which makes them one of the earliest seabirds to do so. They also leave pretty sharpish too, often taking off for sea at the end of August, so if you want to see these colourful characters yourself, your best chance is between March and August.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article! Looking to see some of the most amazing creatures of the deep for yourself? To purchase tickets for Blue Reef Aquarium Newquay, book online to take advantage of our discount offer here.