Wildlife in Cornwall: Fantastic Aquatic Beasts and Where We’ve Found Them
We are so lucky here in Cornwall to see all kinds of creatures, great and small. Whether on the beach in our lessons, or in the valley walking down to Retorrick, there’s always something hiding round the corner to keep you on your toes. From funny little moon jellyfish, to the illusive dolphin. Local, sea-based wildlife in Cornwall is plentiful, and it’s one of the reasons we love living on the North Coast.
Alright, most of you have probably seen the common seagull (Latin name Larus canus) steal someone’s pasty in Newquay, or crabs (the Shore crab being most frequently encountered in North Cornwall: Carcinus maenas) in a small child’s bucket in Padstow. One of the other more frequently spotted creatures down here are the salty sea dogs: often mistaken for a swimmer with their neoprene hood on, bobbing around by Cornish cliffs. There are a couple of wild grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) that inhabit the caves around Newquay harbour. They’re always waiting to sneak any of the fishermen’s catch they can get their flippers on, that accidentally fall into the depths, before coming onto land, only to be sent to a nearby fish restaurant.
In recent years, we have had a squishy addition to our wildlife in Cornwall. More and more jellyfish have been washing up here in Mawgan Porth. Most are harmless, like the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) manifesting in either a clear puck with pink rings, or a blue-purple dome-like blob. It is not rare to see thick, squishy disks with no tentacle, blobbing around in the sea, or bouncing off your face when you duck dive! Occasionally you’ll see something a bit bigger, like a barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), which is also known as the dustbin-lid jelly. Or the compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella), demarked with brown stripes and thicker tentacles. These ones aren’t to friendly, and touching their tentacle can give you a bit of a sting. If in doubt, don’t pick it up and throw it at your mate – wetsuits will always protect you from them too.
In the summer of 2018, we encountered a few unexpected additions to our surf lessons. Shep (Homo sapien) rescued a 2 foot-long dog fish (also known as a dusky smooth-hound shark: Mustelus canis) that got tangled in a surf school customer’s leash. And Tom (Nomascus leucogenys) scooped up a confused sunfish (Mola mola), taking him/her to a nearby rockpool in his rash vest for safety. Sunfish are a vulnerable species, in terms of extinction. These tropical fish are big round flat things, that swim on their side, giving the appearance they’re a bit drunk! There is a shiny patch on their fin to attract seagulls, so that they can eat the parasites off the fish. They usually inhabit warm water, and deep water too, so he/she was definitely pretty lost. We called Newquay Aquarium to come and check they were all ok (before thankfully being released back into the wild the following day, you’ll be pleased to hear).
If you see loads of birds dive-bombing a certain area out to sea, it probably signifies a bait ball. A bait ball is a school of fish swimming around each other in a tight sphere. Remember the talking shoal in Finding Nemo that gives Dory and Marlin directions? Sea birds love these, as their dinner is much easier to source, with a ton of fish concentrated in a small space. What might be creating this bait ball is dolphins, circling the fish, to force them into that ball. Keep an eye out for fins jumping out the water. The most common type of dolphin we see down here is (unsurprisingly) the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis). We’ve seen loads in Mawgan Porth over the years, or whizzing by the bay to find the bait ball down the coast that they can sniff out from miles away. If you’re in the water at the time, put your ears underwater, and you might be lucky enough to hear their squeaks, communicating to each other! It’s pretty incredible.
One of the rarest sightings of a pod of Risso’s dolphins was just a couple of weeks ago. Grampus griseus are recognisable by their blunt nose, and white markings which become more prominent with age.
But one of the most remarkable things seen down here was none other than a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)!!!!! Click on the link, we’re not lying!
Coastal walks in Cornwall are a great way to experience the nature this county has to offer. You might see a fin in the distance, and the huge range of birds that scale cliffs and make nests teetering on craggy outcrops. If you want a truly exhilarating, exclusive insight into the wildlife in Cornwall, have you ever considered going cliff jumping in Cornwall? Coasteering and wild swimming give you a unique chance to see some of the good stuff that no one else has the opportunity to experience.