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Love Islands – my top five British islands for spotting whales and dolphins

Have you ever seen a whale or dolphin from the UK coast? It’s easier than you might think to have a magical encounter, if you know where to look.

Lisa Drewe, chair of WDC’s trustee board, founder of and author of Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain’s Hidden Islands, has explored our coasts and islands, and watched many whales and dolphins along her way.  In this guest blog, she shares special memories of visits to some of her favourite spots.

Lisa Drewe on island of Mersea Lisa Drewe
Lisa Drewe is WDC's Chair of Trustees and founder of

What better way to spot whales, dolphins and porpoises than watching from a boat destined for an island, or while stood on an island’s shore? There are more than 28 species to see and loads of island spots to see them from.  Here are five of my favourites.

Isles of Scilly, Cornwall

I don’t think I’ve ever made a crossing on the Scillonian III ferry and spent more than a few moments inside the cabin – even in bad weather. My standard trip is to wait until I see Wolf Rock, nip to the café for a cup of coffee, return to the deck and then wait. It’s usually not long before I see the sleek bodies of common dolphins surfing the bow wave making a great start to my holiday.

Ynys Lochtyn, Cardigan Bay, Wales

A short, steep scramble down a climber’s path from the mainland, through a sea cave and onto the westerly point of this island affords expansive views of the bay and the resident population of bottlenose dolphins. It took me some time to find this route but it was well worth it. One memorable visit, we were watching wildlife tour boats scour the sea in the far distance looking for what’s widely considered to be the largest dolphin pod in Europe, when we heard the distinctive blow of dolphins right below us almost at the foot of the cliffs. They had eluded the tour boats and we enjoyed our own private viewing that day.

Beautiful Ynys Lochtyn
Beautiful Ynys Lochtyn

Isle of Man

Almost at the end of a 144 km cycling trip exploring a coastal circuit of the island I had my first ever sighting of Risso’s dolphins. Just south of Douglas Head along a quiet track at the edge of the cliffs a mother and calf were swimming gently below. At first I was confused, the bulbous shape of her almost white head was initially hard to identify, but after watching for thirty minutes or so I was in no doubt. The coastal waters of the island are rich in marine life and there are many more places to stop to spot other species. Kallow Point in Port St Mary near the southern tip is a real hotspot for harbour porpoises; head to Laxey and Bulgham Bays in the winter to see minke whales; look out for bottlenose dolphins all along the east coast and enjoy common dolphins around the whole coastal circuit.

Risso's dolphins
Once you know what to look for, Risso's dolphins are unmistakeable

Black Isle, Scotland

Not really an island but my round-up wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the best place in the British Isles for watching bottlenose dolphins from land. Plus, on most days you’ll have the chance to learn more about the dolphins with Charlie Phillips, WDC’s adopt a dolphin field officer who calls Chanonry Point his ‘office’. I first met him by chance, early one morning on Chanonry Point. I was trying to photograph the dolphins when a voice behind me told me that I’d never get a decent shot – I was pointing the camera into the sun. This was many years ago and I didn’t know who Charlie was. It wasn’t until I looked back from the car park, saw the huge letters of WDC on the back of his jacket and looked the organisation up that I realised how special that 30 minutes with him had been. And so began my relationship with this fantastic organisation.

Chalie Philiips at Chanonry Point
If you visit Chanonry Point, chances are you will see WDC's Charlie Phillips at work just like I did

Isle of Lewis

After circumnavigating several islands of the Outer Hebrides, we spent our last evening on Tiumpan Head on Lewis and couldn’t have timed our arrival there more perfectly. One of the WDC Shorewatch volunteers was up on the vantage point with a pair of binoculars looking across the expanse of water between us, the mainland and the northern tip of Lewis. In just an hour he pointed out several white-beaked dolphins and minke whales. He was really on the lookout for humpback whales but unfortunately they didn’t put in a show that night. At other times you’ll likely see Risso’s, bottlenose and common dolphins, harbour porpoises and if you’re lucky an orca or two. Sperm whales have been spotted here occasionally too. This is widely considered one of the best places in the UK, and possibly Europe, for whale-watching from land and is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting the Outer Hebrides in search of wildlife.

As you can see, you don’t have to travel abroad to see whales and dolphins in the wild, you just need to explore.  These are my favourite spots, but there are many more.  Good luck!

Feeling adventurous?

Get Lisa's brilliant book 'Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain's Hidden Islands ' from Wild Things Publishing and 10% of profits will be given to WDC.

About Julia Pix

Communications manager - Public Engagement

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