This is the most common cetacean (the word given to groups of whales, dolphins and porpoises) that can be seen in this area and you can see them all year round. They grow to 3.5–4m long and are a dark grey in colour on their backs with a paler colour on their bellies. They have a large sickle shaped dorsal fin about half way along their back and a big beak or nose. The bottlenose dolphins seen in this area can be up to 50% bigger than ones you will see in the rest of the world, as they need to be able to cope with the cold water they have lots more fat to keep them warm- a bit like a giant wetsuit.
Bottlenose dolphins often swim close in to the coast, especially around harbours and in bays, although large schools (the word used for groups of dolphins) can be seen in deep water further out to sea. They are a social animal, and enjoy living in small groups. They are a very curious and will often swim up to boats and leap right out of the water, known as breaching.
This dolphin spends a lot of its time off shore in deep water but during the summer months can be seen closer into the coast so look out for it when you are by the sea. You will know a White-beaked when you see one as they are a large, strong dolphin, slightly smaller than the bottlenose, growing up to about 3m in length when fully grown. They have a short white beak or nose (hence the name) and white markings down their sides, with a grey patch behind the dorsal fin on their backs. They are darker than the bottlenose, and look almost black and their fins are longer and thinner. They are very fast animals and also like to bow ride boats but get bored a lot quicker than the bottlenose.
This is the smallest cetacean found in European waters yet is often mistaken for the bottlenose dolphin. The porpoise is about half the size, only growing to about 1.5m long and is dark grey in colour. Their dorsal fin is much smaller and triangular in shape, and they have no distinctive nose. Very little of the animal is usually seen and they never jump out of the water or bow ride. Generally all that is seen is the dorsal fin which moves forward with a rolling action, as if stuck to a wheel.
Minke Whales are normally found on the West coast, but can be seen in this area too. They are very small for a whale, growing to 8–10m in length.
They are a dark grey colour, have a small triangular head, and paddle like fins, often marked with a white band. Their dorsal fin is small and is not in the middle of their backs like dolphins but instead is about two-thirds along their back towards their tail.
For more information on species identification you should look at the Seawatch Foundation website as they have good pictures to help you identify what you see. If you click on the blue links it will take you straight to their website.
If you would like to learn more about dolphins why not do the dolphin diploma?
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