Sea Life in Cornwall

Padstow hosts a myriad of sea life that occupy our waters and Cornish coastline at different times of the year

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There is a variety of sea life in Cornwall

The true highlight of any Padstow boat trip is the chance to see a wide variety of sea life in and around the water. You might not have realised just how many species call British waters their home, and Padstow Sealife Safaris give you the chance to get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures. Depending on the time of year that you choose to visit, you’ll have the chance to see a number of different species.

The most common mammal that we encounter on our safaris are grey seals. Around 40% of the world’s population of these charming creatures live around the British Isles, they are regular sights on our trips. At all times of the year, seals can be spotted in the waters. Winter can be a particularly exciting time to spot young seal pups, as the breeding season runs from September to December.

The deep waters near Padstow also team with dolphins and porpoises of a number of species, and our experienced crew will help you identify the different varieties you can see, and teach you to spot Common Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises, and Bottlenose Dolphins. The sociable dolphins often swim close to the boats and enjoy interacting with the safaris!

Sometimes you may even have the chance to spot a basking shark – but don’t worry, unlike their larger cousins, these creatures only eat plankton and tiny fish. Basking sharks are usually spotted in the summer months when the water fills up with plankton for them to dine on.

Don’t forget to look up!

While there are plenty of fascinating creatures in the water, our safaris also offer the chance to see some unusual bird life, too. Some birds live here all year round, while others just pass by during their annual migration. Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills fall into that category and can be spotted between the middle of April and late July. Other birds you might get a look at include seabirds like Cormorants, Shags, Gannets, Gulls, Fulmars, Oystercatchers and, if you’re lucky, Peregrine Falcons.

There are plenty of other interesting, smaller fish in the water, too. Jellyfish are common in summer, it can be quite fascinating to watch them make their undulating progress across the waves. If you see an unusual disc floating flat on the surface of the sea, get the camera out, because it’s quite possibly a Sunfish – an unusual, round fish that can grow up to a whopping two metres in diameter. During their spawning season, Cuttlefish are a common sight, sometimes the sea is littered with their bones.

Every Sea Life Safari is different – we can’t guarantee which birds, mammals and fish will appear on any given day – but with a bit of luck, you can see some truly remarkable species during your day out!

Below we’ve listed a handful of our most frequent marine life we encounter on our boat tours.

gray seal shark dolphin padstow sealife safaris

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

Seals are the most common mammal we spot on our sea safaris.

They are found on coasts on both sides of the north Atlantic ocean, as such they are often referred to as the Atlantic grey seal. We are lucky enough to around 40% of the world population living around the British Isles and they can be found all around the Cornish coast throughout the year. We have many seals that we see regularly; swimming in the waters of secluded coves and resting out on the rocks of nearby islands.

When the tide is high, we see the seals feeding close to the shore. They catch a mixture of fish, including sand eels and crabs. Seals don’t need to feed every day and they fast during the breeding season. They rest and relax when it’s low tide and that’s when we see them hauled out on the rocks.

The breeding season in the UK is between September and December. Females use the caves around our coast to give birth. She will only stay with her pup for the first 3 weeks of its life, feeding it on rich fatty milk. Then she leaves the pup to fend for itself and will go on to breed again. The pup’s amazing instinct forces it to start hunting. It soon loses its white coat and gains its spotty one.

Read more about Seals in Cornwall
Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

These dolphins live in pods of between 50 and 100 individuals. They inhabit the deep offshore waters off our coastline and, lucky for us, off Padstow. They are very sociable creatures, enjoying bow riding and interacting with boats.

How to identify Common Dolphins:

  • They have attractive wavy marks along their sides of yellow, brown or gray, often described as an hourglass pattern
  • 1.5- 2.5 metres in length
  • Can swim at about 30 mph
Read more about Dolphins in Cornwall
Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

We have a resident pod of this species in Cornwall. There are about 10 of them and they inhabit the sheltered inshore waters along the coastline.

How to identify this species:

  • 2.5- 3.5 metres in length
  • Mostly dark gray above and lighter gray or white belly
  • Inhabits shallow waters
Read more about Dolphins in Cornwall
Porposie Dolphin

Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

This is one of the smallest mammals living in the sea. We have a resident pod on the south coast of Cornwall of between 8 and 10 individuals (they’re a bit difficult to count!) They are quite hard to spot due to the small size of their dorsal fin so we tend to see them on relatively calm days. They are generally shy and don’t interact with the boat as much as the dolphins might do.

How to identify a Harbour Porpoise:

  • Only 1.3 – 1.8 metres in length
  • Gray / dark brown coloured above, paler belly
  • Often makes a ‘puffing’ noise when at the surface breathing through its blowhole
Read more about Porpoise in Cornwall
Basking Shark Cornwall

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus)


Basking sharks are seen sporadically throughout the summer months and can be easily spotted, feeding close to the coast and close to the surface of the water. They can be found in all the seas around the UK. Little is known about them in the winter, but as there aren’t many (or any) sightings, it has been suggested that they migrate offshore and to deeper water.


  • These creatures can grow to be almost the same size as a double decker bus – that’s 15 metres long!
  • The large dorsal fin is easy to spot from a boat or the cliff top. On larger animals it can be seen flopping to one side as the fin is too heavy to support itself upright out of the water.
  • Quite often the tail fin is seen above the water and the tip of the nose if it is feeding.


As the sea begins to warm up in May, the plankton blooms and this attracts the basking sharks. We can see the plankton blooms from the boat, usually along tide lines where there are tiny bubbles on the surface and this is where the basking sharks can be found feeding. The sharks have 5 long gill slits on each side of their bodies and they have rakers which sieve out the plankton from the sea water passing through them.

Read more about Basking Sharks in Cornwall
Puffin in Cornwall


We are lucky to have a rich variety of habitats on our doorstop, attracting many different species of birds, both as residents and migrants passing through. Rugged cliffs, muddy creeks, salt-marsh, sandy and rocky shores, sheltered coves and freshwater means a wide range of species can be seen on our trips:

● Cormorants ● Shags ● Puffins, Guillemots & Razorbills (mid April – late July) ● Shearwaters ● Gannets ● Gulls ● Fulmars ● Oystercatchers ● Peregrine Falcons ● many more…

Read more about Puffins in Cornwall
jellyfish padstow sealife safaris


Jellyfish can be found all over our UK coastlines as well as in all of the global oceans, but how much do you actually know about the magnificent jellyfish?

Jellyfish are often misunderstood, frequently receiving bad press due to their unforgettable sting. However, they’re actually really fascinating creatures, so here at Padstow Sealife Safaris, we thought we’d give you the low down on all you need to know about these interesting invertebrates.

Read more about Jellyfish in Cornwall

Other wildlife

At different times of the year we can find other species of wildlife on our sea safaris such as the strange looking Sunfish, a disc shaped fish that can grow up to 2 metres in diameter and can sometimes be seen floating flat on the sea surface.

The sea can also be littered with Cuttlefish bones during their spawning season.

We never quite know what me might find as sea temperatures change more and more unusual species are being found around our Cornish Shores

Read more about other Wildlife in Cornwall

That moment you spot the friendly Puffins…