Let's go whale watching!

Caroline Cassidy

Britain's coastline not only boasts some of the country's most stunning landscapes, but is also home to a wonderful variety of wildlife. From seals and sea birds to whales and dolphins, the marine life around our native shores is worthy of a bracing coastal walk or even a trip into deeper waters, so if you're a keen wildlife watcher, here's where to see what.

Marine wildlife in the UK
Marine wildlife in the UK

Pic: Getty

Sea birds
The British coast is teeming with sea birds of all shapes and sizes. Undoubtedly the most spectacular sea bird sights are to be found on St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, which is home to more than half a million breeding seabirds, including the one of the world's largest colonies of northern gannets. Fulmar, shag, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbill are also to be found here, along with puffins, petrels and shearwaters.

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Perhaps a less remote area in which to see these beautiful birds is at Farne Islands just off the coast of Northumberland, where puffins, terns, razorbills, guillemots, oystercatchers and shags are among the seabird sights to see.

Kittiwakes, gannets and puffins also make their homes at Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire, while visitors to St Bees Head in Cumbria will be treated to sightings of fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills.

In the south, Lundy Island in Devon boasts shearwaters, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins.

Seals are a more common sight in the UK than you might think. As with seabirds, Scotland provides ample opportunity to see these endearing mammals, with the Isle of May or the uninhabited Monach Isles the places to go for common seals. The Farne Islands in Northumberland also figure in the grey seal-spotting stakes, as do Seal Sands in Teesside, Donna Nook in Lincolnshire and Blakeney Point in Norfolk, which is also home to the common seal.

Cardigan Bay, Ceredigion and Bardey Island in Wales are all excellent areas in which to see grey seals. In Cornwall, grey seals can be seen all year round, but October is a peak time for breeding, so autumn visitors to the Cornish coast will almost certainly be treated to a view of the impossibly gorgeous seal pups.

Despite their size, whales are probably the most elusive of our marine wildlife, but if you are determined to catch a glimpse of these awesome creatures, Scotland should be your first port of call.

Between May and September, head to the east coast of the Shetland Islands, Orkney and the Western Isles for a chance to see minke whales. If you are very lucky, you might even spot a humpback whale off the southern coast of Shetland.

Long-finned pilot whales have been sighted in the Minch strait off the north-west coast of Scotland from April to September, and a boat trip from the Outer Hebrides into deeper waters could give you the opportunity to spot a sperm whale or two.

Fin whales have been known to pop up at St David's Head in Pembrokeshire during the summer, while the waters around Cornwall also play host to pilot and minke whales.

As you might expect, the Scottish coast is one of the best places to see dolphins, with bottlenose pods regularly seen in the Moray Firth, white-beaked dolphins off the east coast of Shetland throughout the late summer, and Risso's dolphin (off the coast of Orkney) and striped dolphins around the Hebrides.
Orca, or killer whales - the largest species of dolphin - can be spotted around Orkney from June to October.

Elsewhere, Cardigan Bay regularly hosts pods of bottlenose dolphins, and a boat trip around the Land's End Peninsula in Cornwall offers dolphin-spotters the chance to see this cheery species.

Much of the UK's marine wildlife can be spotted from land, but many coastal areas offer boat trips, allowing enthusiasts to delve into deeper waters in search of some incredible sights.

Have you been lucky enough to spot dolphins, whales or seals in the UK? Let us know where below...