Dolphin and whale bonanza causes a splash in Lyme Bay, Dorset

The recent spell of hot, sunny and calm weather has brought a large and spectacular influx of marine animals into Lyme Bay, Dorset, including schools of dolphins, thousands of seabirds, large pelagic fish and even a whale!

The animals have been spotted by researchers from the Dorset-based marine conservation charity MARINElife, who have been studying cetaceans and animals in Lyme Bay and surrounding south west waters since 2007. Over the last five years more than 200 surveys have been completed by MARINElife volunteers totalling  60,000 km travelled – a distance equivalent to sailing one and half times around the earth!  Thousands of sightings have been logged and are contributing to a European-Union funded project – Charm III which aims to research and map marine biodiversity in the Channel.

The sightings this week have been unprecedented though.  Over the course of four full days out at sea between the 21st and the 26th July highlights included a breaching Thresher Shark, a Minke Whale watched for two hours swimming to within 20 metres of the boat, over 60 bow-riding White-beaked Dolphins, several playful Common Dolphin schools, numerous sightings of Harbour Porpoises, an Ocean Sunfish, large numbers of Compass Jellyfish and a feeding frenzy of seabirds involving over 1500 Manx Shearwaters and 800 Gannets.  Several rarer seabirds were also seen including Pomarine Skua, European Storm-petrel, Sooty Shearwater and small numbers of Europe’s rarest seabird – the globally endangered Balearic Shearwater.

The sightings of White-beaked Dolphin were particularly satisfying, as MARINElife is building a catalogue of fin photos, which help identify individual animals. Over the four days at sea, at least six different dolphin schools were seen. Lyme Bay is thought to be the most southerly location in the world for this cold-water dolphin species, which is threatened by climate change.

The majority of the sightings have been well out of sight of land, more than 20 miles offshore in the deeper waters of the middle of Lyme Bay where the animals are largely undisturbed.

Dr Tom Brereton, Bridport-based Research Director of the charity MARINElife commented, “Following an unprecedented spell of windy weather lasting for months, finally it’s been wonderful to get back out to see in such perfect weather.  The sheer variety of animals present has taken us by surprise, with so many incredible encounters. Lyme Bay offers world class marine wildlife watching at the moment.”

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  •  To find out what is being seen view the Charm III blog at
  • For guided boat trips into Lyme Bay, lead by MARINElife guides contact David Shute at Naturetrek on 01962 733051.

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