Travel

The UK beach towns home to famous wild orcas, huge sharks and the world’s largest dolphins


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Credit: The Sun

BRITAIN’S miles and miles of coastline mean we have a front row seat to some of the world’s best marine life – and what’s even better is you can see most of it from the shore.

The UK’s seas have everything from sharks to seals and dolphins, and this time of year is the perfect time to see most of them.

Blue sharks can be found around Cornwall during the summer months and are considered completely safe

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Blue sharks can be found around Cornwall during the summer months and are considered completely safeCredit: Getty
In Hamford Water Nature Reserve seals can be seen resting on the mudbanks - around 250 seals live in the Walton backwaters

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In Hamford Water Nature Reserve seals can be seen resting on the mudbanks – around 250 seals live in the Walton backwatersCredit: Alamy

As part of our Best Of British Travel series, we’ve been speaking to the experts at at ORCA – a charity that protects whales, dolphins and porpoises – about the best spots on the coast to see the species you never knew lived in Britain’s seas.

It’s a Shark’s Tale in Cornwall during the summertime

Head to sunny Cornwall in the spring and summer months, as the country is the UK’s current shark capital – with 20 different types of species, as they enjoy feasting on sardines and squid along the coast.

While Jaws fans might not like the look of their fins gliding through the water, one of the most common types of shark inhabiting our coast at this time of year aren’t dangerous at all.

Basking sharks are huge – the world’s second largest fish after the whale shark – and range from 4 – 9ft in length, but they’re considered rarely harmful to humans.

While they prefer deeper waters, the massive creatures are often spotted in the shallow waters off Lizard Point, although take your binoculars for the best view.

The Wavecrest cafe there has panoramic views of the sea and you can enjoy a cream tea, a full English or even a beer while you shark watch.

ORCA’s Director of Programmes Lucy Babey told Sun Travel: Cornwall and the south west is a hotspot for marine wildlife.

“The diversity of species – leaping dolphins, diving seabirds, lounging seals and even the blow of large whales – makes this one of the best places in the UK to see marine megafauna.

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“In Cornwall and the south west, marine wildlife can all be seen from harbours, cliff tops and beaches, and Lizard Point provides a great vantage point.”

Give the Norfolk pups your seal of approval

Is there anything cuter than a furry seal pup? The tourists in-the-know who head to Norfolk’s beach every autumn certainly don’t think so.

More than 3,000 seals call the coast of west Norfolk – home, and if you time your visit right you’ll be treated to the sight of hundreds of pups wriggling on the sands of Blakeney and Horsey beaches.

The stretch of coast is just along from the Sandringham Estate, where the Prince and Princess of Wales live with their family.

There’s plenty for kids to do in the area too – further south is the seaside resort of Great Yarmouth with famous pier, pleasure beach Joyland amusement park and Merrivale Model Village.

One of Haven’s best rated holiday parks for young families is in nearby Hopton, with both indoor and outdoor activities and swimming pools.

ORCA’s Lucy Babey told us: “Norfolk beaches are home to both grey and harbour/ common seals, and n the Autumn months grey seals come ashore to give birth to their white fluffy pups.”  

Norfolk’s sandy beaches are backed by dunes and have no natural predators, making it the perfect place for seals to call home.

Horsey is the more accessible of the two beaches, to reach it park at Horsey Gap car park and follow the signs to the seals.

Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the ocean - they can grow up to 10 metres long

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Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the ocean – they can grow up to 10 metres longCredit: Getty
Basking sharks are one of three plankton-eating shark species and can be spotted off the Isle of Coll

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Basking sharks are one of three plankton-eating shark species and can be spotted off the Isle of CollCredit: Getty

Sail among basking sharks in the Scottish Hebrides

The Hebrides are jam-packed with all of the ocean’s biggest animals, with more than a quarter of the world’s whale, dolphin and porpoise species found here.

“Lucy Babey told us: Some species calling these waters home all year round, such as minke whales and seals, while others visit seasonally like the humpback whale and basking shark.”

Each summer, the waters off the Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland provide perfect conditions for basking sharks, and it’s a breeding ground for the animals.

Between May and October, they are most likely to be spotted off the coast of the islands of Coll, Tiree and Mull

Lucy added: “Basking sharks, the second largest shark on the planet reaching up to 12m long, are in highest numbers between May and October.

“Despite their size, these sharks are gentle giants.

“They are filter feeders, sifting the water to dine on minute plankton, so you will see them swimming slowly at the surface with their huge mouths wide open.”

As well as the incredible wildlife, these islands are also home to soe of the world’s best beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in Thailand or the Caribbean.

Spend the night at the Coll Hotel – the island’s only hotel and pub, which serves up freshly seafood bought from the Coll fishermen each day.

There are two pods of bottlenose dolphins in the UK, and one of them is found in Cardigan Bay, Wales

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There are two pods of bottlenose dolphins in the UK, and one of them is found in Cardigan Bay, WalesCredit: Instagram
A Bay to Remember offers 1.5 hour boat trips that cover up to 20 miles to see the dolphins

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A Bay to Remember offers 1.5 hour boat trips that cover up to 20 miles to see the dolphinsCredit: Instagram

Ride the waves with some of the world’s largest dolphins in Cardigan Bay, Wales

Forget travelling to the Maldives or Hawaii for wild dolphins – we’ve got some of the biggest dolphins in the world right here in the UK.

Britain is actually home to two pods of bottlenose dolphins – the larger one, with more than 300 bottlenose dolphins, being found in Cardigan Bay in Wales.

Lucy Babey said: “Bottlenose dolphins are probably the most familiar dolphin to many of us and those are the most likely type to be seen along the British coast.

“Their social nature means they are often seen in groups, known as pods, which can number up to 20 animals.

“They frequently leap out of the water causing splashing and often approach boats to surf the waves created by the boat – a behaviour known as bow-riding.

“The bottlenose dolphins found around the UK are actually the largest bottlenose dolphins in the world.”

A Bay to Remember is one of many companies offering boat trips to see them. Its 1.5 hour trip covers up to 20 miles visiting Cardigan Island, Mwnt and beyond.

On average, 80 per cent of the trips spot bottlenose dolphins and/or harbour porpoises.

Once you’ve spotted enough dolphins, there’s plenty more to do in Cardigan Bay – the area has several Blue Flag beaches, farm parks, soft play, and further inland, mountains and lakes to explore.

Minke whales are the smallest baleen whale found in UK waters, measuring seven to 10 metres long

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Minke whales are the smallest baleen whale found in UK waters, measuring seven to 10 metres longCredit: Alamy
Hebridean Whale Cruises offer boat trips from Gairloch to the Shiant Islands, to try and spot minke whales, porpoises and common dolphins

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Hebridean Whale Cruises offer boat trips from Gairloch to the Shiant Islands, to try and spot minke whales, porpoises and common dolphinsCredit: hebridean-whale-cruises

Get starstruck in Scotland with the UK’s famous resident orcas – John Coe and Aquarius

Whales have been spotted along most of Britain’s coastline, but one of the best spots to see them is on the north west coast of Scotland.

Lucy Babey said: “The UK is home to two resident killer whales, known as John Coe and Aquarius, who travel around the country but are most common in the west and north of Scotland.

“Despite their name, these are in fact dolphins, not whales, and they are the largest of the dolphin family, reaching 10m in length.

“Visiting orca/ killer whale pods from Iceland and Norway can also be seen around Orkney and the Shetland Islands all year round.”

John Coe is around 60 years old – one of the oldest male killer whales in the wild – and Aquarius is thought to be only slightly younger.

They are the last remaining members of Scotland’s endangered West Coast Community of killer whales, and fans of the pair travel thousands of miles each summer to catch sight of them.

If you don’t manage to spot them, there are plenty of Minke Whales, porpoises, three types of dolphins, humpback whales and basking sharks that have also been known to circle the waters.

Hebridean Whale Cruises offers boat trips from Gairloch to the Shiant Islands, for the best chance of seeing whales and dolphins.

The 2.5 hour Whales and Wildlife cruises and the 4 hour Ultimate Orca 1 cruises run on a daily basis between mid-May and mid-September. The Whales and Wildlife cruise is £65 for adults, £50 for children (4-12 years), and the Ultimate Orca 1 cruise is £100 for adults, £80 for children. Visit Hebridean Whale Cruises to book.

Once you’re done on the water, there are plenty of scenic hiking trails in and around Gairloch and great trout fishing.

Britain is home to around 36 per cent of the world’s seal population of grey seals, and Essex is one of the best places to spot them

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Britain is home to around 36 per cent of the world’s seal population of grey seals, and Essex is one of the best places to spot themCredit: Instagram
Nomad Sea Kayaking offer four to five-hour-long kayaking excursions to go see the seals

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Nomad Sea Kayaking offer four to five-hour-long kayaking excursions to go see the sealsCredit: Instagram

Kayak alongside playful seals in Essex

Essex is famous for its TOWIE residents these days, but it’s also home to around 250 seals living in the Walton backwaters, and in Hamford Water Nature Reserve they can be spotted resting on the mudbanks.

Nomad Sea Kayaking offers four to five-hour-long guided sea kayaking tours to visit the seal colony.

Price per seat is £109.99 and skill level listed is beginner, fitness level basic to mid, with age suitability from 16 upwards. To book, visit Nomad Sea Kayaking.

Lucy Babey told us: “The UK is home to two species of seal, the grey seal and the harbour/common seal. 

“The harbour/common seal is the smaller of the two species and despite their name, is less common than grey seals in the UK.

“When not at sea, seals ‘haul out’ on land, resting, digesting food or nursing young.”

When you’re finished kayaking, pay a visit to nearby Walton-on-the-Naze, with its classic pier and sandy beach.

And slightly further along the coast is the larger Clacton-on-Sea, with a pleasure pier, arcades, airfield, golf courses and shopping village.

Harbour porpoises are the most common UK cetacean species and are often spotted around Labrador Bay in Torquay

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Harbour porpoises are the most common UK cetacean species and are often spotted around Labrador Bay in TorquayCredit: Alamy
Dolphins and basking sharks have also been spotted around Labrador Bay in the South West of England

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Dolphins and basking sharks have also been spotted around Labrador Bay in the South West of EnglandCredit: Getty

Take a Devon sea safari to spot porpoises

The town of Torquay is one of the most famous along the English Riviera, with its sandy beach, steam train, prehistoric caves, model village and huge water park.

It’s also well-known for being the birthplace of the author Agatha Christie, and her old holiday home is just along the coast and available to visit through the National Trust.

Torquay is a vibrant town on the English Riviera, attracting beachgoers with its seaside promenades and summertime activities. Crime novel fans may recognise Torquay as the birthplace of celebrated 19th-century author Agatha Christie.

It’s also home to harbour porpoises, which are commonly spotted off of Labrador Bay in Torquay.

Lucy said: “The harbour porpoise is the smallest cetacean (collective word for whales, dolphins and porpoises) found in UK waters and is the only porpoise in Europe.

“Despite being small and shy, these incredible marine mammals can be easily spotted close to shore in shallow, coastal regions all around the UK.”

One of the best ways to spot them in Devon is on a coastal tour – Devon Sea Safari voyages have a Marine Wildlife Sea Safari that’s approximately two hours long, setting sail from Teignmouth and heading to Torbay. As well as harbour porpoises, you’re likely to see common dolphins and seals.

The Farne Islands are home to thousands of seals, and around October time is pupping season

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The Farne Islands are home to thousands of seals, and around October time is pupping seasonCredit: Getty
Seal pups are covered in long, fluffy white hair to keep them warm when they're first born

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Seal pups are covered in long, fluffy white hair to keep them warm when they’re first bornCredit: PA:Press Association

Warm yourself with the sight of cute baby seals on a winter Farne Islands cruise

Seals can be seen all times of year in spots around Britain, including the Farne Islands in Northumberland – home to thousands of grey seals.

Every autumn you can see seal pups, with around 3,000 pups born on the island each year.

Companies like Billy Shiel’s Boat Trips offer cruises out to see the seals throughout the year, but for views of the pups, head out late October until January.

Billy Shiel’s Boat Trips are available for all ages, dogs are also welcome. It’s £20 for adults (ages 16+), £15 for children (ages 5-15), and free for infants (up to 4 years old). To book, visit its website.

Location: Billy Shiel’s Boat Trips, Harbour, Harbour Road, Seahouses NE68 7RN

I WENT ON A SEA SAFARI IN PADSTOW IN CORNWALL – HERE’S WHAT I SAW

Amy Nicholson went on a Sea Safari with Wavehunters in Padstow, Cornwall

Watch Amy’s video diary of her time on the Sea Safari and in Padstow at the top of this article. 

By Amy Nicholson

Padstow is a really cute harbour town on the western banks of the Camel Estuary in North Cornwall. In the town you’ll find the Wave Hunters office which offers boat trips round the stunning Cornish coastline. I booked on to their two hour Sea Safari and was so excited to be able to explore the coast and see if I could see any marine life. 

As the 10-metre rig pulled out of Padstow Harbour there were views of the town of Rock over the estuary. The first part of the trip we admired the rugged Cornish coastline, checked out blowholes, and saw a dinosaur rock formation known as Rumps. 

We made our way over to Puffin Island which is home to a variety of seabirds. We managed to see lots of different species, including a puffin in the water. 

We were then greeted with the presence of a gorgeous seal who popped up to say hello. 

To finish the safari off we were so lucky to be able to see some common dolphins. The waters around Cornwall are home to several species of dolphins, and these common ones are known for their playful behaviour, and they’re often seen in large pods. 

The Sea Safari was an amazing experience. After coming off the boat I walked round Padstow to check out all the little cute shops and restaurants. I grabbed a Cornish pasty from Chough Bakery and ate it on the harbour wall. But there were so many seagulls, I was afraid they might steal it! 

To finish off an amazing day I had to get some fudge, which I picked up from Pendragon’s Ice Cream and Fudge. 

Responsible marine wildlife watching

Encountering marine wildlife in their natural environment is an exciting experience, but it’s important to remember that they are wild animals and need to be treated with respect. 

Lucy said: “Marine wildlife is particularly sensitive to disturbance, on land or at sea, especially when resting, with young, or feeding. Being responsible when watching them will reduce disturbance and help safeguard their populations for the future.

“Many people do not realise that it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally and/or recklessly disturb marine mammals, and can result in a fine. 

Responsible marine wildlife watching includes; staying at least 100m away from the animal; not feeding or touching the animal; minimising noise around wildlife; not chasing, following or harassing wildlife.”



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