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Ten surprising marine species living off our shores


You don’t need to travel to exotic lands to see spectacular marine life this summer… we have some amazing species right on our doorstep.

The UK’s seas get a pretty hard time! They are seen by many as the dark and cold distant cousin of the warmer, turquoise seas promised in foreign lands.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whilst they might be considerably colder than those abroad, they are anything than dark and lifeless!

Meet some of the stars of our film:

1. Sunfish

The sunfish is the world’s largest bony fish and can reach up to three metres long. Sunfish are usually silvery-grey to dark-grey with thick, leathery skin with a blunt head and a small, beak-like mouth.

Spotting tips for the sunfish

Sunfish are summer visitors to the UK and are usually spotted in fairly open waters sunbathing on their sides at the surface of the ocean.

2. Basking shark

A basking shark feeds off of teh coast of EnglandA basking shark feeds off of teh coast of England © Alan James / WWF / Canon

The basking shark, known by some as the gentle giants of the shark world, is the second largest fish in the world. They get their name from being slow swimmers, reaching an average of 2.5 mph as they enjoy relaxing in the sun.

Spotting tips for the basking shark

You are most likely to catch a glimpse of the basking shark along the west coast of the UK.

3. Fin whale

The fin whale is the second largest living mammal on earth and is also the fastest swimmer of all the large whales. Their distinctive ridge between the dorsal fin and tale gives the fin whale its nickname ‘razorblade’.

Spotting tips for the fin whale

Fin whales are mostly found in the pelagic zone of the ocean (open water) and along the coasts. A group of 21 was recently sighted in the Celtic Deep – off the coasts of Cornwall and Wales.

4. Pink sea fan

This soft coral is extremely slow growing but can live up to 50 years. They use their stinging tentacles to capture microscopic animals and grow at right angles to the prevailing water currents to enable them to catch as much food as possible.

Spotting tips for the pink sea fan

Pink sea fans live in areas of strong currents on the rocky reefs below ten metres deep. You’re most likely to spot the soft coral in the south-west of England.

5. Orca whale

Orca whales, also known as ‘killer whales’, are the largest member of the dolphin family. As their nickname suggests, the orca whale is one of the world’s most powerful predators.

Spotting tips for orca whales

You’re most likely to spot an orca whale around the Shetland and Orkney Islands in Scotland.

6. Harbour porpoise

The harbour porpoise is the shy relative of the dolphin and a member of the cetacean family. They communicate by emitting a very broad frequency range, which may have social or communication significance.

Spotting tips for harbour porpoises

You are most likely to catch a glimpse of the harbour porpoise along the west coast – particularly near Wales or the west coast of Scotland. Only surfacing to breathe, you may be more likely to hear a puffing sound, similar to a sneeze, than spotting the mammal.

7. Blue shark

Blue shark,Penzance, Cornwall © Alexander MustardBWPA 2014 Coast & Marine winning photo – Big Blues – Penzance, Cornwall, England © Alexander Mustard

Blue sharks are excellent swimmers but are often observed cruising along very slowly. They use electroreceptors concentrated in their heads to find food, which can sense a heartbeat of another fish from several miles away.

Spotting tips for the blue shark

Blue sharks are seasonal visitors to the Celtic Seas and can be seen off the west coast when our waters reach warmer temperatures.

8. Jewel anemone

Jewel anemone come in a range of bright colours including green, orange, red, pink or white. The mouth of a single anemone can be surrounded by up to 100 tentacles. They reproduce by splitting in half, using a process called ‘longitudinal fission’.

Spotting tips for the jewel anemone

You’re most likely to spot a jewel anemone in shaded waters or caves along the south and western coasts of Britain.

9. Gannet

Gannet bubbles, Shetland Isles, Scotland © Richard ShucksmithGannet bubbles, Shetland Isles, Scotland © Richard Shucksmith

The gannet is a large seabird which can dive deep into the ocean at speeds of up to 60 mph. The impressive bird can dive as deep as 22 metres and uses its wings to swim even deeper in pursuit of prey.

Spotting tips for gannets

You’re most likely to see gannets between January and October along the coasts of the Celtic Seas. St Kilda, an island off the west coast of Scotland, is actually home to the largest colony in Europe.

10. Cuckoo wrasse

This colourful fish is known for its confident and curious nature. They have a fascinating life cycle as every fish is born female but can change its sex to male when it reaches five to seven years.

Spotting Tips

You’re most likely to spot a cuckoo wrasse in rocky areas all along our coast lines.

We are grateful to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for supporting our work on the Celtic Seas Partnership.

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