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Whale Watching in Cornwall

By September 23, 2021November 24th, 2021No Comments
minke whale sightings in Cornwall under the water close up

When you think of whale watching you might think of places like Iceland, Canada or Monterey Bay in California. However, did you know that there are a number of whale species that can be spotted right here in Cornwall?


Minke Whale Sightings in Cornwall


  • Best time of year to spot Minke Whales in Cornwall: Our sightings of minke whales have gone from just the spring to right through the season from April to September.
  • Where are you likely to spot Minke Whales in Cornwall: Minke whales are often spotted surfacing on the outskirts of feeding frenzies, or even lunge feeding right in the middle of one! We can also encounter them just swimming along anywhere, both inshore and offshore, however, more often than not, our encounters with minke whales would be at least a mile offshore

In recent years, Padstow Sealife Safaris have had an increasing number of sightings of minke whales on their Sealife Safari boat trips. We have gone from not really seeing whales at all when we first started; to having a few sightings in the springtime; to regular sightings throughout the season. Minke whales are the most common whale species found around the UK coast, favouring near-shore waters, so their presence is not unusual. Possible reasons that our sightings have increased could be a growth in population, a change in ocean currents or the designation in recent years of Padstow Bay as a Marine Conservation Zone to protect the pink sea fan and spiny lobster. Regulation of activities in these waters could have had positive knock-on effects up the food chain and into surrounding areas, attracting larger predators like whales.

Whale fin rising from surface of water

Minke whales are the UK’s smallest whale, measuring at 7-10 metres and can be distinguished from other species, not just by their size, but also by their white “armbands” on their pectoral fins.

Unlike larger whale species, minke whales’ blowholes and small hooked dorsal fins can both be seen at the same time as they surface. They often lack a distinctive “blow”, which is the cloud of vapour created as a whale exhales at the surface, but you can often smell them before you see them – their fishy breath gives them the nickname “stinky minke”!

Sei Whale Sightings in Cornwall


  • Best time of year to spot Sei Whales in Cornwall: Currently there is no documented pattern to their sightings.
  • Where are you likely to spot Sei Whales in Cornwall: Sei Whales are more elusive than minke whales but much bigger so they should be easier to spot from the coast. Look across the horizon. Make sure you scan your eyes slowly from left to right while on the boat and take note of anything that breaks the surface of the ocean water.

Although the minke whale is our most commonly sighted whale species, we have also had a handful of sightings of the sei whale. They are rarely sighted around the UK and they are listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN’s species red list after being almost hunted to extinction during times of commercial whaling. Much larger than the minke whale, they can reach lengths of 16-20 metres and can be identified by their long backs and tall dorsal fins. They are one of the fastest cetaceans in the sea, reaching speeds in excess of 35mph as they skim feed at the surface. Their name comes from the Norwegian word for “pollock” as their presence often coincided with large shoals of this fish.

Finhval 1

Fin Whale Sightings in Cornwall

Fin Whale Sighting in Cornwall

  • Best time of year to spot Fin Whales in Cornwall: Currently there is no documented pattern to their sightings in cornwall.
  • Where are you likely to spot Fin Whales in Cornwall: Slightly further off the coast in deeper waters. Look out for pronounced ridge in the water, the Fin Whale has a distinctive ‘razorback’ that runs from their dorsal fin to their tail.

Two whale species that we are yet to spot on our tours, but are sighted around Cornwall are the humpback and fin whale. 

Fin whales are seen occasionally in Cornish waters, predominantly between Cape Cornwall and the Fal Bay, however, this winter there was a sighting just off Newquay so there is always the potential for sightings in Padstow Bay too. Fin whales are the second-largest species of animal on Earth, growing over 25 metres in length and are unusual whales in that they have an asymmetrical appearance with their jaw being white on the right side and black on the left. They also can be identified by their straight, backwards slanting dorsal fin and tall vertical blow.

Humpback Whale Sightings in Cornwall

Humpback Whale Sightings in Uk, Cornwall

Image by Brigitte 

  • Best time of year to spot Humpback Whales in Cornwall: Humpback whales usually visit our shores in the winter as they travel north to feed.
  • Where are you likely to spot Fin Whales in Cornwall: Humpback whales can come fairly close to the coast as they travel and can often be spotted easily from the land due to their size and distinctive features.

The humpback whale is an iconic whale species, known for its energetic displays, breaching out of the water, slapping their pectoral fins on the water and raising their tail flukes up as they dive. They are incredibly distinctive with their knobbly faces and huge 17-metre bodies flanked by long, white pectoral fins which are around a third of their body length. Humpbacks used to be quite a prevalent species in UK waters until they were hunted close to extinction by whalers. Encouragingly, in recent years sightings of humpbacks have been on the increase, with record numbers of sightings around Cornwall this past winter and even a sighting in summer in 2019. We hope that this means they will become more of a regular visitor to our waters and hopefully a species we are able to encounter.

With the addition of our new cabined Redbay RIB to our fleet, we will now be able to run longer trips, searching further offshore and longer throughout the year to allow us a better chance of encountering whales and other offshore species and winter visitors. Keep your eyes peeled on our social media and booking page of our website for the opportunity to join us on one of these exciting exploratory trips. Who knows what we might be lucky enough to see!