Updated: Dec 30, 2020
It's not the first place you might think of for spotting wildlife, however the English Channel is actually brimming with sea creatures. Some of the most remarkable are the cetecea, aquatic mammals including dolphins and whales. In the two weeks we spent sailing place to place across the channel we spotted nearly twenty pods of dolphins, a group of minke whales and plenty of other interesting wildlife including compass jellyfish, moon jellyfish, a sun fish, puffins, and gannets.
Common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are, as the name suggests, some of the most abundant dolphins and therefore easiest to spot in the UK. They can be found offshore in relatively large pods and are pretty likely to come and investigate your boat for a play in the bow wave. In this video you can see two of them rubbing their pectoral fins (front flippers) together as a way of showing affection to each other.
White-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) are larger and less common but equally as playful and curious as Common dolphins. Hopefully you can see the morphological differences of this individual compared to the Common dolphins, particularly their stockier build and white patterning.
Off the coast of Plymouth in a marine conservation area we spotted a group of about 4 Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). They are the UK's smallest whale, but reaching lengths between 7-9m they were still slightly daunting to be sailing next to. The whales surfaced near our boat for around 5-10 mins before they swam away to continue feeding.
We must have seen thousands of jelly fish over those two weeks. Most were compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) which you can recognise by their brown pattern (that resembles a compass), there are a few featured in the White-beaked dolphin footage. Some looked to be nearly two meters long, scary to swim near as they pack a pretty nasty sting. We also saw a lot of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), these are small whitish jellies with four circles on their bell, unlike Compass jellies they don't sting humans. As well as these two we saw a third more purple looking species of jellyfish, I think these where mauve stingers (Pelagia noctiluca), which can actually glow at night and are even stingier than compass jelly.
Jellyfish are hard to photograph to say the least, here are a couple compass and moon jellies.
Maybe my favorite out of all the wildlife we saw, we spotted a young sunfish (Mola mola) inside Plymouth Sound! These guys are the largest bony fish on the planet and can grow up to 4m and weigh tonnes, though the one we saw was much smaller. If you don't know what they look like it's worth the google. They lie flat at the surface of the sea to soak up some rays before they dive into colder water which is probably what the little one we spotted was doing.
Though we didn't manage to get any photos we spotted puffins (Fratercula arctica) in the middle of the Channel , did you know these cute birds actually have florescent bills under UV? As well as puffins we also saw plenty of gannets (Morus bassanus), these large white sea birds have blue bills and eyes and usually fly in a small group, one behind the other.
Not exactly wildlife but still interesting from an environmental point of view. Plastiki is a 60ft catamaran built out of recycled plastic bottles which sailed 8000 miles from San Francisco to Sydney to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the ocean. We moored next to it outside of Plymouth where it looked like it might have seen better days. It's a pretty unique conservation project to check out if you're interested, this is their website https://theplastiki.com/.