Learn all about our favourite marine friend, the dolphin.
Where’s the best place to see Dolphins in Cornwall?
The best way to see dolphins in Cornwall is via our boat trips of course! A few types of dolphin you may see on your boat trip include Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis), and Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and the more elusive Risso’s Dolphins (Grampus griseus).
As their name suggests, the dolphin you will most likely encounter is the Common Dolphin. Common Dolphins live in pods of around 20 in UK waters and are extremely inquisitive characters. Because of their sociable nature, these dolphins tend to interact with the boats a lot more, giving you an up-close view of their beautiful pod. The Common Dolphin may be easier for you to spot: they can often be seen in their pods following the boats or you’ll see them jumping out of the water as they swim. They have a very distinctive yellow and grey ‘hourglass’ pattern along their sides. Lucky for us, they tend to frequent the deep waters off the Cornish coast, just outside of Padstow!
Become a dolphin expert learning everything from diet to their links with aliens! To start you off, here are our top 9 interesting facts about dolphins.
9 interesting facts about Dolphins:
What is a Dolphin?
Dolphins are actually classed as small gregarious (that means they live in groups/organised communities) toothed whales. Known for their distinctive curved fin on their backs and beak-like snouts. Dolphins are extremely well known for their sociable nature and high intelligence; they’ve even been known to use tools and problem solve.
Book your Dolphin boat tour in Cornwall
Our popular 2-hour “Sea Life Safari” tour would be the best option if you’re looking to see the dolphins. Allowing more time and plenty of opportunities to search for dolphin pods, you’ll be sure to see a lot more fascinating and exciting wildlife on the way. Or hire the boat! Our skipper knows exactly where to search for the best opportunity to see the dolphins.
Padstow Sealife Safaris offer a selection of the best boat trips in Cornwall for you to get up close with these most beautiful sea creatures. And with smaller boats of up to just 12 passengers, you can be sure to get a magnificent view of these lovely and playful mammals.
Are Dolphins Mammals?
Yes, dolphins are mammals, specifically marine mammals. This means that they are warm blooded, child bearing aquatic creatures. However unlike land mammals, aquatic mammals like dolphins and whales have a seperate breathing and food passage. This stops them from drowning when hunting and eating their prey. Because of this dolphins don’t actually possess vocal cords and instead uses their nasal passage to produce the distinctive clicks and whistles.
The earliest records of dolphins can be traced back as far as 10 million years. So they’ve been around for a while! Their closest relatives – the whales are even older, existing as far back as 40 million years ago, they lived on land before slowly evolving into the marine mammals we know today. Looking in to the past makes it easier to understand why these exclusively aquatic animals are mammals.
Is a Dolphin a fish?
No, dolphins aren’t fish. Although they do spend their entire lives in the water, dolphins still have to breathe air. Fish don’t breathe air or have lungs, they have gills which allow them to take oxygen from the water. Dolphins rely on their blowhole for breathing above the surface. Dolphins are ‘conscious breathers’, meaning they have to think about every breath they take so never fall asleep completely because they’d drown.
Dolphins vertebrae move vertically, similar to our human spines whereas most fish move their vertebrae horizontally (side to side) to move through the water.
Another distinctive quality is that dolphins are warm blooded. Although not all fish are cold blooded, most are because water is a ‘heat sink’ meaning it drains the heat out of surrounding objects which means it takes a lot of energy to stay at a constant heat. Dolphins combat this by surrounding their body with a thick layer of fat (commonly called blubber) which helps them stay warm in the chilly seas!
Where do Dolphins live?
Almost everywhere! Dolphins live in all oceans of the planet and even in some rivers too. There are 39 types of cceanic dolphins and 5 river dolphin so with 44 different species there’s almost a dolphin for every oceanic environment. One of the best known dolphin (the bottlenose) lives in every ocean in the world – bar the arctic and antarctic.
Most dolphins live in the shallow waters, on the ocean’s continental shelves. Needing to come up for air means they don’t often go into the deep ocean, but some of the larger species do venture further out.
What do Dolphins eat?
They aren’t too picky. Being predators dolphins have to hunt for their food and on average need to eat between 4-9% of their body weight in fish per day. Their diets depend mostly on where they are. In Cornwall dolphins predominantly eat fish like herring, cod or mackerel but may also eat squid or other cephalopods. The largest member of the dolphin family, the killer whale may eat marine mammals like seals or sea lions – sometimes even turtles!
Dolphins use several methods to catch their prey:
- Herding: This is a cooperative hunt performed by a pod. Splitting into two, one group surrounds a school of fish while the other group take turns to eat through the compacted school of fish.
- Corraling: The Dolphins trap fish in shallow waters.
- Killer Whales: When killer whales hunt marine mammals they tend to use their tails to hit them in the water or throw them, stunning them enough to make a fatal blow.
Is a Killer Whale a Dolphin?
Yes, Killer whales or Orca are often confused with being a whale thanks to their misleading name. Killer Whales are the largest member of the dolphin family with the largest Orca recorded to be 32 feet long and 6 tons! Their distinctive black and white markings vary depending where they live. Like their dolphin relatives, killer whales live anywhere. They’re the most widely distributed mammals (bar humans) on the planet.
How do Dolphins sleep?
Dolphins do sleep but not like land mammals. When it’s time to sleep the dolphin will shut down one hemisphere of it’s brain and close the opposite eye and will alternate this throughout its ‘sleep’. The side of the brain that’s awake monitors the environment and controls breathing. There are three main reasons why they do this:
- This type of sleep allows them to keep moving constantly which helps the warm blooded dolphin to maintain a constant heat.
- To look out for danger and predators.
- If they were fully unconscious they would likely drown because they have to be constantly holding their breath while underwater.
Do Dolphins have predators?
Elsewhere in the world, dolphins may be predated on by large species of shark or orca (killer whales); but here in Cornwall they are top of the food chain and have no predators to worry about.
How long do Dolphins live?
Depending on the species, dolphins can live up to 90+ years. Although in captivity these tend to be more than halved. Smaller dolphin species will live an average of 25 – 30 years, but killer whales have a 40 – 60 year lifespan, with some even estimated to live for over 90 years. Meanwhile, captive killer whales have an average lifespan of 25 years or less. This shows the best place for them to be is wild and free.
Are Dolphins endangered?
Some are. The Māui’s dolphin, found in the waters of New Zealand, is on the brink of extinction due to the masses of discarded fishing gear (ghost gear) with estimates suggesting less than 100 of these dolphins remain in existence. No dolphins in Cornish waters are on the endangered list, however they are still at risk of entanglement in fishing gear.
What is a baby Dolphin called?
Baby dolphins are called calves. Dolphins give birth to one calf every 1-6 years, however occasionally they can have twins.
What is a group of Dolphins called?
A group of dolphins is called a pod. These are normally made up of around 12 dolphins. However, with an abundance of food, they can reach up to 1000 individuals – this is called a superpod.
What species of Dolphin you could see on your trip:
A few types of dolphin you may see on your boat trip include Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis), Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and the more elusive Risso’s Dolphins (Grampus griseus).
These dolphins live in pods of around 20 here in UK waters. They inhabit the deep offshore waters off our coastline and, lucky for us, are frequently seen just 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
As their name suggests, the dolphin you will most likely encounter is the Common Dolphin. Common Dolphins live in pods of around 20 and are extremely inquisitive characters. Because of their sociable nature, these dolphins tend to interact with the boats a lot more, giving you an up-close view of their beautiful pod. The Common Dolphin may be easier for you to spot: they can often be seen in their pods following the boats or you’ll see them jumping out of the water as they swim. They have a very distinctive yellow and grey ‘hourglass’ pattern along their sides. Lucky for us, they like the deep waters off the Cornish coast, particularly just outside of Padstow!
We have a resident pod of this species around the Southwest of England. There are 28 identified individuals and they travel around the sheltered inshore waters along our 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
Just like the Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphins are also extremely sociable and playful, although they live in smaller pods and can be less predictable in where they may show up. There are 28 known Bottlenose Dolphins that reside in the shallower waters just off the Southwest coast. The Bottlenose will mostly feast on fish and crustaceans and they communicate to each other by squeaking, clicking and whistling. Bottlenose Dolphins can occassionally be seen coming right into the Camel Estuary to chase fish.
Inhabiting deeper water around our coasts where they hunt for squid, Risso’s Dolphins are a rarer sight that Common and Bottlenose Dolphins, but they occasionally come in close to the coast.
How to identify a Risso’s Dolphin:
- 2.5- 4 metres in length
- Tall, curved dorsal fin (Males’ fins are taller and straighter)
- Lack of ‘beak’ or snout with rounded melon (forehead)
- Pale grey skin which gets marked and scratched easily through social interactions and wrestling with their prey (squid) making their skin appear scratched and whiter
Although not a common sight on our Sealife Safaris, occasionally we are treated to sightings of Risso’s Dolphins when they travel closer to the coast. They spend most of their time further offshore on the deep water continental shelves where they dive as deep as 500 metres for up to 30 minutes to hunt mainly squid, but also octopus and cuttlefish. Surprisingly, they don’t actually have many teeth, with 4-14 teeth on their lower jaw and none on their top jaw. They use the teeth they have to grab onto their prey and then swallow it whole. Risso’s Dolphins are not as sociable with boats as other dolphin species, but can be very active at the surface, breaching upright out of the water. They are sometimes seen travelling with other species, particularly Bottlenose Dolphins.