10 sea creatures you never thought you’d see in the UK

Humback whales VWFS
Charlie Young

Charlie Young

Rent-a-Car’s go-to writer for all things travel, adventure and exploration.

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You might think you need to travel to the other side of the world to catch a glimpse of these ocean dwellers, however, these amazing sea creatures can be spotted much closer to home. Did you know, in the UK you are never more than a 70-mile road trip away from the sea? So, here are ten of the most exciting sea creatures that the UK has to offer and the best destinations to spot them.

Dolphin noses VWFS Rent a Car

Bottle Nose Dolphins

Bottle Nose Dolphins

So, you thought the only places to spot dolphins were tropical islands? Bottle Nose Dolphins regularly visit UK waters! These extremely intelligent mammals are also very quick; they can reach speeds of up to 30mph! There are lots of places you can see these amazing creatures in the UK, with dolphin spotting boat trips on offer in Newquay, the Moray Firth and The Ceredigion Marine Heritage Coast.

Humback whales VWFS

Humpback Whales

Humpback Whales

Catching a glimpse of a Humpback Whale is extremely rare, no matter where you are in the world - but they have been known to show up in UK waters. The migratory pattern of these majestic whales brings them towards the coasts of Western Ireland and the North West Coast of Scotland. Incredibly, they have also been seen numerous times off the coast of Norfolk in recent years. Humpbacks are a huge even for whales; a new-born calf weighs around two tons (that's half a ton more than a Volkswagen Golf!). Your best chance of seeing one in the UK is to keep an eye on whale-watching websites and quickly plan a road trip when one is spotted.

Seamouse VWFS

Sea Mouse

Sea Mouse

One of the strangest sea creatures on the planet, the Sea Mouse resembles a giant furry caterpillar that scurries along the seabed. This bottom-feeder gets its name from the way it scampers across the seafloor like a... well, proper mouse. These small, yet delightfully strange little scavengers can be found off the coast of Cumbria in the summer - so maybe it's time to try scuba diving?

Orca VWFS

Orca

Orca

If you couldn't help but tear up while watching the 1993 film Free Willy, you will be pleased to know that Killer Whales (Orca) can be spotted off the coast of Scotland throughout the year. Sea Watch Foundation share the latest sightings of Orca on their website and run an 'Orca-Watch' every year during the summer months. Something to consider if you’re planning a Scottish summer adventure!

Did you know, sometimes Orca can work together in their pods to take down even bigger fish than themselves? They have been known to take down Blue Whales, so it's best to avoid joining them for a swim!

Ocean Sunfish VWFS

Ocean Sunfish

Ocean Sunfish

Who said size doesn't matter? The Ocean Sunfish is the largest bony fish in the whole world, and you can see it right here in the UK! Not only are Ocean Sunfish huge (the average weight of a mature fish weighs hundreds of kilograms) but they are also incredibly weird looking! One place that is notorious for Sunfish sightings is Dorset, so keep your eyes peeled this summer. These fish like to swim close to the surface to keep warm, with their dorsal fins poking above the surface like a shark. Maybe you'll even see one big enough to beat the current world record, measuring 4 metres vertically, 3 metres horizontally and weighing in at a colossal 2,000Kg!

Basking Shark VWFS

Basking Sharks

Basking Sharks

Just behind the enormous Whale Shark, the Basking shark is the second-largest species of shark. They can measure up to twelve metres long and weigh up to six tons! In other words, they are roughly the size of a double-decker bus. Don't worry though, these gentle giants are strictly vegan and have zero interest in eating humans. Instead, they prefer to gobble plankton through their gaping mouths.

Basking sharks are found in British coastal waters between May and October, but you are most likely to catch a glimpse of one around Cornwall, Western Scotland, The Isle of Man and in the Western English Channel.

Hammerhead sharks VWFS

Hammerhead Shark

Hammerhead Sharks

Another impressive shark, and without question one of the scariest fish in our oceans is the Smooth Hammerhead Shark. Unlike Basking Sharks, Hammerheads love their meat and use their uniquely shaped heads to detect electrical fields and find their prey buried in the sand. They can be aggressive predators and love snacking on stingrays. We don't recommend seeking out a swim with these predators but if you want to spot one, your best chances are in Devon during the summer months although sightings are quite rare.

Thresher Sharks VWFS

Thresher Sharks

Thresher Sharks

The UK's most mysterious shark, the Thresher Shark is often spotted in the South and South-West between June and October. They are instantly recognisable by their long, whip-like tail and big eyes, but they are nowhere near the size of other sharks in our waters. Threshers only grow to approximately 350-450cm in length. Thresher Sharks spend most of their time in the deep waters of the open sea, rarely straying to coastal areas. However, they seem to love catapulting themselves into the air! These amazing sharks can be seen jumping every summer from West Wales, right along the South Coast to the Thames Estuary.

Leatherback Turtles VWFS

Leatherback Turtles

Leatherback Turtles

Among the surprising creatures to grace our waters are the largest species of turtle, the Leatherback. These amazing animals only breed and lay eggs in much warmer climates, so you're unlikely to see one sunbathing on our beaches. However, they are drawn to the UK waters by an abundance of their favourite snack, Jelly Fish! Leatherback Turtles have a pretty amazing, but slightly disgusting way of making sure they never lose a jelly - they have spines on the inside of their throat to make sure their prey stays down there for good! Head anywhere along the West Coast in the summer months to catch a glimpse.

Harbour Porpoise VWFS

Harbour Porpoise

Harbour Porpoise

Did you know that the word 'porpoise' comes from the medieval words for 'pig' and 'fish', and they used to be known as the rather unflattering 'Puffing Pig Fish' thanks to the puffing noise they make when they breathe! Harbour Porpoise are one of the smaller sea mammals (reaching only 2m in length) but they are definitely among the most adventurous! They are known to wander upriver, far away from their ocean homes where they like the cooler, and shallower waters. In the UK you can expect to see the Harbour Porpoise in most coastal areas, especially on the West Coast. But if dolphins and porpoises are on your bucket list this summer, be sure to book a trip over to Cardigan Bay where both can be seen in abundance during the warmer months.

Sources

Dolphins (Dorset, Devon, Cornwall) HERE

Humpback whales (Norfolk, Firth, Devon) HERE

Orca (Scottish Coast) HERE

Sun Fish (Dorset) HERE

Sea Mouse (Cumbria) HERE

Basking Sharks (Cornwall) HERE

Smooth hammerhead shark (Devon) HERE

Thresher Shark (South and South West) HERE

Leatherback Turtles (West Coast) HERE

Harbour Porpoise (South Coast) https://seawatchfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Harbour_Porpoise.pdf

Biggest shark : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/natures-home-magazine/birds-and-wildlife-articles/features/meet-the-basking-shark/

Dolphins - https://uk.whales.org/whales-dolphins/species-guide/common-bottlenose-dolphin/ Dolphins have been seen using tools and teaching one another how to use them! They are extremely intelligent, just like great apes and elephants!

Humpback whales - https://www.scubadiving.com/7-interesting-facts-about-humpback-whales https://www.thecarconnection.com/specifications/volkswagen_golf_2021 new-born humpback calves weigh around 2 tons, whilst a 2021 VW Golf weighs 1.5 tons! https://www.intotheblue.co.uk/blog/2017/07/21/can-you-go-whale-watching-in-the-uk/

Orca https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/discover/animals/sea-life/killer-whale-facts/ Sometimes Ocra work together to take down even bigger fish than themselves! They’ve been known to hunt blue whales.

Sun Fish https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/64197/14-fascinating-facts-about-ocean-sunfish Sun fish spend up to half the day sunbathing on the water’s surface to warm themselves up after a deep dive.

Sea Mouse https://www.britannica.com/animal/sea-mouse Sea mice burrow and creep in a way reminiscent of real mice

Basking Sharks https://www.treehugger.com/basking-shark-facts-4863515 Basking sharks have been known to leap 4 foot above the water during mating season and to rid themselves of parasites.

Smooth hammerhead shark https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/facts/hammerhead-sharks Hammerheads detect electrical fields which help them to find prey buried in the sand.

Thresher Shark https://www.sharksider.com/10-incredible-facts-thresher-sharks/ Aristotle wrote that thresher sharks temporarily swallow their young to protect them.

Leatherback Turtles Blue Planet 2 – Leatherback Turtles are the largest species of turtle and lay their eggs in the Caribbean. https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/discover/animals/sea-life/leatherback-turtle-facts/ Their favourite food is jelly fish…a shame they don’t have ice cream!

Harbour Porpoise https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/harbour-porpoise-1 the word porpoise derives from medieval words for pig and fish – making them pigfish!


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