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Seals and Cetaceans

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Grey Seals Photo: Claire Hedley

The Northumberland coast is one of the most important areas in Europe for the Atlantic grey seal and they can be seen at any time of the year. Dolphins and even whales are increasingly found off the Northumberland Coast.

Watching seals

If the seals are at sea you will normally just see their heads bobbing on the surface of the water. They can often be seen in Seahouses harbour too.

The best place to see seals is the offshore islands where they haul out onto the rocks to rest. The outer Farne Islands and Coquet Island provide important haul-out areas all year round. The boat companies at Seahouses provide special trips to the Farne Islands to view the seals in the autumn when the females come ashore to pup.

During the summer months hundreds of seals can haul out onto the sand flats at Lindisfarne NNR. These animals are best viewed from the Heugh at Holy Island. Please do not attempt to get closer to the seals. Despite their friendly appearance, they are wild animals and can easily be disturbed. This is particularly important if you have dogs with you. A frightened seal can turn defensive if it feels threatened.

Watching cetaceans

Whales and dolphins are known collectively as cetaceans. Viewing them from the Northumberland coast can be an amazing experience but, unlike the seals, cetaceans cannot be guaranteed.

Harbour porpoises are present in our waters all year. They are best viewed through binoculars or a telescope from the shore. Try looking from outcrops like Dunstanburgh Castle, Cullernose Point or Emmanuel Head on Holy Island.
Two species of dolphin are regular visitors to our waters – bottlenose dolphin and white-beaked dolphins. Neither species can be guaranteed; temperature, weather conditions, food availability and the season all have an influence on their presence.

That said, for white-beaked dolphins, late summer is the best time to see them. They can be spotted by scanning the sea from a high dune or outcrop. Choosing a day with calm sea conditions will increase your chances of seeing them.

Sightings of minke whale are not uncommon and, like dolphins, are best spotted when the sea is calm.

A trip to the Farne Islands at this time can be rewarding and if cetaceans are present, the boatmen at Seahouses may run special trips.

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