While terrestrial wildlife is often very accessible in Cumbria, whether you are interested in birds, butterflies or a bit of everything, there is also fascinating wildlife in our oceans that many people don’t often get the chance to see. Also, it is easy to mistake one species for another when the waves are choppy and obscure the animals below the surface.

However, there are distinct differences between these species.

The bottlenose dolphin is the largest and most commonly-sighted dolphin in our seas. It is a chunky, fairly plain grey dolphin, darker above and paler below. Their beak is short and stubby and their dorsal fin is large, sickle-shaped and often marked with notches and scratches. Bottlenose dolphins are highly social, usually found in small groups of up to 15 animals. Look out for their boisterous splashing and breaching. They are very acrobatic, often jumping out of the water, and will readily approach boats to bow-ride.

Another mammal that can be spotted in Cumbrian waters is the harbour porpoise, the smallest and most numerous cetacean in the UK. The word “porpoise” comes from the medieval Latin word porcopiscus, a combination of porcus (pig) and piscus (fish). In contrast to bold and playful dolphins, porpoises are often very shy and rarely approach boats. Harbour porpoises are usually solitary, but will sometimes form small hunting groups of around five members. PAlso unlike dolphins, porpoises have blunt snouts with a streamlined forehead. Interestingly, harbour porpoises can both be pregnant and lactating at the same time.

Both bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, under European Law and listed as a Priority Species in the Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

To find out more about Cumbria’s native marine wildlife, join one of the Seawatch events taking place this summer at St Bees and Maryport, in partnership with Sea Watch Foundation. They provide an excellent opportunity to search for and survey marine species such as porpoises, dolphins and seals. Booking is required – click here for more details.