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Risso's dolphins © Sonja Eisfeld-Pierantonio/WDC

Which whales and dolphins live in the UK?

Around 28 different species of whales and dolphins have been seen around the UK coastline. Some of these have only been recorded a few times while others are seen more regularly. Sometimes we also get unexpected visits from species that are not usually found here, such as the beluga whale that visited the Thames in 2018.

The species most commonly sighted around the UK coast are bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. There are populations of bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay in Wales and the Moray Firth in Scotland, but smaller groups or individuals may be seen almost anywhere. Harbour porpoises are small and shy but found around most of the UK coastline.

Fin whales are the second largest species of whale. At various times of the year they are seen in deeper waters stretching from Scotland down to the western part of the English Channel. Locations for Risso's dolphins include Bardsey Island in Wales and the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Common dolphins may be seen in deeper offshore waters while orcas from Iceland visit Northern Scotland in late spring and a small pod known as the West Coast community has turned up in locations stretching from the north of Scotland down to Cornwall.

Minke whales are the most common species of baleen whale seen around the UK coast, especially during the summer months off the west coast of Scotland and in the North Sea.

Other species such as sperm whales, white-beaked dolphins, atlantic white-sided dolphins, pilot whales and humpback whales are also seen from time to time and more rarely beaked whales including the northern bottlenose whale.

Orcas may be encountered seen year-round in the Northern Isles and in late spring off the mainland of Northern Scotland.


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Bottlenose dolphin at surface


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Humpback whale. Photo: Vanessa Mignon


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Orca spyhop


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