5 Best Places to Spot Dolphins in Cornwall

Staycations mean more of us are able to discover the treasures of our Cornish shores and coastal waters as we visit the seaside for a summer break. Your holiday cottage in Cornwall is perfectly placed to see a wealth of marine life all year round, from basking sharks, dolphins and jellies in the spring and summer to seabirds and the enormous fin whale in cooler months. This summer is an ideal time to realise your dream of spotting dolphins in crystal-clear waters without the hassle of hopping on a plane. The fabulous and diverse wildlife can all be seen from the South West Coast Path or you can charter a boat to get up close and personal with a host of marine life. Here are the five best places to spot dolphins in Cornwall – don’t forget your camera.

1. Falmouth Bay

Falmouth Bay is one of the best locations in Cornwall for spotting dolphins. ‘The wonderful shelter afforded by the Lizard Peninsula and the warm waters provided by the Gulf Stream make Falmouth Bay rich in marine wildlife throughout the whole 12 months,’ says wildlife guide Georgia Bardua of AK Wildlife Cruises, who offer award-winning sight-seeing and sealife tours. ‘Many different species of cetaceans, including four species of dolphin, can be found in Falmouth Bay, with species such as the inquisitive and playful common dolphins and the tiny harbour porpoises being observed on a frequent basis both from land and on water. Common dolphins come inshore to feed in Falmouth Bay and can be spotted in numbers well into their hundreds, hunting together to catch prey and inevitably attracting clouds of hungry, diving gannets. Being a very playful and social species, they will also more often than not come over to bowride and leap beside the boat. We are very lucky down in Cornwall to have a resident population of bottlenose dolphins, which can be seen anywhere along the coast, often in small numbers, identified and monitored by their unique dorsal fins through photo-identification. On top of this, we also observe larger, offshore maternal groups of bottlenoses traveling through Falmouth Bay at any time during the year, mixtures of adults, calves and juveniles.’

Book a cruise at akwildlifecruises.co.uk

2. Land’s End

Land’s End not only offers spectacular ocean views, but also an incredibly rich ocean population. Whether you’re looking out from the cliffs with a pair of binoculars or on the water itself, you could encounter grey seals, various seabirds, different species of dolphins and porpoises, enigmatic ocean sunfish or even giants such as minke whales, humpback whales, basking sharks and leatherback turtles. Environmentally conscious Marine Discovery offer tours of these waters, while also gathering scientific data so each trip has a purpose to learn more about the sealife and how to protect it. ‘The diversity of the wildlife found in West Cornwall is what makes it special,’ says the small team, led by head guide Hannah Jones. ‘Sailing gives you the most special encounter possible, the quiet meaning you can hear the splashes of the gannets as they dive and the whistles of the dolphins as they bowride alongside us.’

Book a tour at marinediscovery.co.uk

3. River Fal and Helford

The wide rivers of the Fal and Helford are ripe with all sorts of sealife, including dolphins. ‘Slightly smaller than the bottlenose dolphin, the charismatic Risso’s dolphins are also recorded each year in Falmouth Bay, usually between April and September and often in groups of around 5-20 individuals. The entrance to the Helford estuary and in deeper offshore waters along the Lizard Peninsula can be a productive area for this species, as well as east around the Roseland Peninsula.” says wildlife guide Georgia Bardua of AK Wildlife Cruises, who have navigated these waters for years and know what to see and when – all you have to do is sit back and soak up all the wildlife on offer.

Book a cruise at akwildlifecruises.co.uk

4. Padstow

The deep waters near Padstow are bursting with wildlife, dolphins and porpoises. In the summer months you may even spot a basking shark. The experienced crew at Padstow Sealife Safaris will help you identify the different varieties of dolphins you can see, and teach you to spot Common Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises, and Bottlenose Dolphins. The sociable mammals often swim close to the boats and enjoy interacting with the safaris. If you’re lucky, you may even clap your eyes on Wally the walrus, who has become a national treasure as a much-loved visitor to Cornwall from the Arctic. On 19 May 2021, the crew and passengers were astounded to spot Wally while out on one of their sealife safaris – at first they thought he was a large male seal, until they caught sight of his tusks!

Book a safari at padstowsealifesafaris.co.uk

5. Porthcurno

See the amazing Minack theatre from the sea as well as gaze at wildlife in the turquoise waters. Mermaid Pleasure Trips will take you past Cornwall’s famous fishing port, Newlyn, Mousehole and Lamorna Cove to Porthcurno and the open-air theatre. The seas are usually very clear here so expect to see dolphins, porpoises, minke and humpback whales and sunfish. 

Book a trip at cornwallboattrips.co.uk