I used to think that to see a cetacean I had to travel and get on a boat. So over the last couple of decades, a theme has emerged when I plan a holiday – is there even the remotest chance I might be able to go on a whale or dolphin watch?
Although I won’t be giving up the boat trips any time soon – nothing beats the thrill of a close encounter with a creature that has chosen to come to or ignore the boat – I was curious to stumble across Sea Watch a couple of years ago. It was then I realised (doh!) that if you watch the sea enough, even in the UK - you might, just might, have the thrill of spotting cetaceans just ‘doing their thing’.
The idea behind Sea Watch is stunningly simple. Given that there are known to be around 29 species of whale and dolphin in UK and Irish waters, if you watch the sea regularly you should be rewarded with a sighting of a fin. The more effort you put in, the more likely it is. Even casual walks on coastal paths can result in a sighting. But if as many people as possible can be encouraged to watch the sea in a concerted effort, for a glimpse of a fin, and to report those sightings to Sea Watch, then a pretty good picture of whale and dolphin activity can be built up.
Sea Watch foundation has been encouraging the public to report sightings as well as watching the sea itself since its inception – meaning it has a comprehensive record of sightings from which all sorts of useful information can be extrapolated. And for people like me, ever hopeful of spotting a fin, the list of recent sightings, area by area, is encouraging. I am from the South East of England which, to be frank, is not ideal for pursuing this hobby. But even here, there are occasional magical sightings reported. If you live in or visit Cornwall or South Devon, however, or the west of Ireland or the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides, your chances of spotting the occasional cetacean increase. And as you’ll know if you happen to live around New Quay, Wales, or Chanory Point, Moray Firth, Scotland, summer visitors are pretty much guaranteed some dolphin action. With a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins on hand, and always the chance of other species passing by, it is no coincidence that Sea Watch Foundation have an office in New Quay.
In any event, just having an excuse to sit down and watch the sea for an hour or so is, in my view, a real treat. Even in the wind and rain. Last week, I had the joy of spending some time doing just that – from New Quay pier, a couple of minutes walk from the Sea Watch office. And I am looking forward to doing it again, this time closer to home, during National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2017.
So next time you go for a walk by the sea, keep looking! You may just be lucky enough to spot a fin. If so, don’t forget to report it to Sea Watch. If not, better luck next time.
Written by Hannah Clarke, occasional Sea Watcher