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Which whales and dolphins live in the UK?

Around 30 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 you are most likely to see are the bottlenose dolphin and harbour porpoise. 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 the most common species. Western Scotland is an excellent place to see them.

Fin whales are the second largest species of whale. They arrive in the channel in late winter and early spring. Risso's dolphins live off Bardsey Island in Wales and Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Common dolphins may be seen in deeper offshore waters while orcas visit Northern Scotland in late spring and may be seen at other times.

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.

Other species such as sperm whales, beaked whales, atlantic white-sided dolphins, pilot whales and humpback whales are less commonly seen but keep an eye out whenever you are visiting the coast, you never know what you might catch a glimpse of. You don't have to be out on a boat, many sightings are made from land, headlands can be excellent vantage points.


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Bottlenose dolphin at surface


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Humpback whale © Vanessa Mignon


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