Wildlife Spotting Goals for 2021 – Part Two: Marine Wildlife
I’ve waited until mid-March before writing part two of my wildlife spotting goals for a couple of reasons. Firstly, due to lockdown and home-schooling I had no time to write (and struggled to hear myself think) and secondly there was no rush as these creatures are best seen in the summer or when the ocean is calm. There have been very few calm days this year with strong winds and blustery rain, dragging out what already feels to have been a very long winter and although the days are now drawing out summer is still a number of weeks away.
Although basking sharks are a common visitor to the coast of Cornwall and despite spending plenty of time gazing out to sea I’ve never seen one of the ginormous beasts.
These giants of the sea are the largest of the sharks that visit British waters, usually being spotted in the summer months from May to September. In contrast to their ferocious appearance, not only growing up to 12 m in length and weighing up to 6 tonnes but swimming with their cavernous mouths wide open and their dorsal fin above the water in typical ‘Jaws’ style, they are really gentle giants eating only zooplankton.
If you’d like to try and spot a basking shark then Cornwall, the Isle of Man, the coast of Wales and the west coast of Scotland all report regular summer sightings.
Sunfish (Mola mola)
The sunfish is an incredibly odd-looking creature that visits British waters during summer to eat the jellyfish that arrive here en-masse. They are giant bony fish that can grow to over 3 metres in length and weight over 1300kg. Sunfish are known for ‘sunbathing’ on the water’s surface (hence the name) which is thought to help increase their body temperature after diving into colder water. In many other parts of the world it’s known as the moon fish because of it’s round, silver appearance.
Last year when walking on the south west coast path I spotted a giant shape floating on the surface of the water. It was far too big to be a seal and definitely not a dolphin or patch of seaweed. After watching it for a short while it disappeared. In hindsight, and after hearing of regular sightings in the area, I now think this was a sunfish but I don’t think I can really count it as a sighting if I didn’t know what I was looking at!
I’m lucky to have seen dolphins a number of times off the coast of Cornwall but they never get boring and I’d love to get many more sightings this year.
Six species of dolphin have been seen around the British coast including common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, risso’s dolphin, white-beaked dolphin, striped dolphin and orcas, which although are most commonly referred to as killer whales are a member of the dolphin family. The mostly commonly seen dolphins are bottlenose and common dolphins.
Now the days are getting longer I’m going to make a much greater effort to see all of these marine species by dedicating time each week to sit on cliff tops scouring the sea with binoculars (it’s a hard life!) and also by booking on several sea safaris leaving from various locations around the Cornish coastline. I’ll let you know how I get on over on Instagram.