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Whale Watch Winter 2024

2024 has certainly got off to an impressive start in terms of the amount of life in Falmouth Bay.

Hi everyone, I’m James, Falmouth Marine Conservation’s Whale Watch Project co-ordinator, and now seems like a great time to sum up all the amazing marine life seen recently!

Lucky onlookers watching one of the winter visitors to Falmouth.

Whale watch aims to record all the amazing marine megafauna around Falmouth. This includes things like cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoise), seals, seabirds, and any large fish that happen to pass by. We’ve certainly had our hands full since the new year, as the bay has absolutely exploded with life!

Common dolphins in the Carrick Roads, at our monthly Seaquest Shorewatch. Photo by Alex Wright.

You’ve almost certainly heard about all the dolphins in the bay, and, if you’re lucky, maybe seen them yourself. Well, the past few weeks have certainly been full of dolphins, with up to 400 seen one evening in the bay! This has certainly been the most I’ve regularly seen, and it’s an amazing sight if you’re lucky enough to see it. The species we’re seeing at the moment are our beautiful common dolphins; these are really spectacular animals. They’re often up to 2.5m long, with a stunning yellow ‘hourglass’ pattern on their side, which makes them really distinctive. I’ve been lucky enough to witness loads of awesome behaviours from them recently, from porpoising (where they surface to breathe), to breaching (where they jump out of the water) and spyhoping (where they poke their head up for a little look around). Their acrobatic behaviours make them a joy to watch, and pretty easy to see.

A common dolphin leaping through the air, showing its distinctive patterns. Photo by Alex Wright.

Now, when we’re talking about dolphins, there are generally two questions people ask me: ‘why are they here’, and ‘when’s the best time to see them?’. We’re always really lucky that the sightings of dolphins increase dramatically in the winter months, January and February especially. The dolphins are probably following their favourite food source – small fish like sardines, pilchards and mackerel. These fish come into the Fal river to breed during the winter, and the dolphins often follow them up the river to feed on all the tasty fish. When people ask me the best time of day to see them, I generally tell them to head up to Pendennis in the early evening, before sunset. We know, from FMC’s Cetacean Acoustic Trend Tracking project that the dolphins tend to head out of the river early in the morning, then return in the evening, so if you’re up at the point at one of those times during the winter months, there’s a very high chance you’ll be lucky enough to see them.

Dolphins in front of the Black Rock in the river Fal. Photo by Alex Wright

The other awesome marine sighting we’ve had recently, that you’ve probably all heard about was the fin whale! On Saturday the 27th of January, a fin wale was seen swimming off Pendennis point at about 11am. Amazingly, it hung around all day, until past 5pm, giving lots of lucky people the amazing chance to see it. Fin whales are truly incredible: they’re the second largest animal ever to have lived, regularly growing over 20 meters long. This one was certainly very large: its spout alone was easily 4 or 5 meters tall and very visible despite the strong winds. It was amazing watching this animal surface in one area, then pop up on the opposite side of the bay 10 minutes later. Fin whales are one of the fastest species of whale, reaching up to 25mph, and it was clearly showing this off zipping about the bay so quickly. It was really awesome to see so many people up at the point, enjoying the amazing marine life in the bay.

The fin whale surfacing for a breath. Photo by @reiephotography

We finished our week of amazing marine life with our monthly shorewatch, on Sunday the 4th of February, at Pendennis point. I was pretty confident that we’d see some marine life, with all the sightings throughout the week, and I wasn’t disappointed. We were joined by 3 pods of common dolphins, totalling 40-50 individuals, and 4 grey seals bobbing around the point. Again, we were joined by more than 30 members of the public throughout the day, and one of the best parts of this role is sharing all the amazing marine life with everyone, and seeing how passionate people can be about its conservation! Although early morning or evening is the best time to see the dolphins, they’re certainly around all day, if you’ve got a good pair of binos, and are looking hard enough. I think I’ve probably rambled on long enough about all our winter visitors, but if you want to come along to one of our Shore watches, it would be great to see you there! Our next one will be on Sunday the 3rd of March, from 11am-1pm, at Pendennis Point. It would be awesome to see you there!

Some very happy shore-watchers! Photo by Meg Hayward-Smith.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks to @_alexjwright_ and @reiephotography for letting us use their awesome wildlife photos!


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