For one week last summer, 2,500 volunteers lined up along Britain’s coastline to count cetaceans in an annual citizen science survey organised by Sea Watch Foundation.


In total, 11 different species were counted during event, with harbour porpoises spotted most frequently, followed by bottlenose and short-beaked common dolphins.

“It’s so important for people to join in helping us to track whales, dolphins and porpoises in UK waters,” says Kathy James, Sea Watch’s sightings officer. “By taking part, people are directly contributing to their conservation”.

Short-beaked common dolphins seen from Marine Discovery off Penzance. © Rebecca Knee

The mass survey relies completely on volunteers to bring in the data that will be used for a variety of purposes, including feeding into government policy on cetaceans.

“The wonderful thing about watching for whales and dolphins in the UK is that you don’t necessarily have to get on a boat to see them,” continues James.

The majority of sightings came from land based volunteers, stationed at 108 survey sites around the coastline, while 48 vessels also took part, including fishing boats, ferries and cruise ships.

Reported sightings showed a wonderfully diverse range of species in UK waters, with everything from long-finned pilot whales, striped dolphins and even orcas being spotted off the North of Scotland.

An orca off Brae, Shetland. © Rhona Clarke

This was Sea Watch Foundation’s 16th consecutive year heading the annual whale and dolphin watch.

The total number of records came to 1410, only slightly less than in 2016, when the survey had a record-breaking 1424 sightings.

The National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2018 takes place between 28 July – 5 August.

Species - Number of sightings

  1. Harbour porpoise - 697 (49.43%)
  2. Bottlenose dolphin - 224 (15.89%)
  3. Short-beaked common dolphin - 207 (14.68%)
  4. Minke whale - 114 (8.09%)
  5. Orca - 39 (2.77%)
  6. Risso's dolphin - 35 (2.48%)
  7. White-beaked dolphin - 18 (1.28%)
  8. Long-finned pilot whale - 14 (0.99%)
  9. Humpback whale - 4 (0.28%)
  10. Atlantic white-sided dolphin - 1 (0.07%)
  11. Striped dolphin - 1 (0.07%)
  12. Unidentified cetacean - 56 (3.97%)
  13. Total - 1410


Main image: Bottlenose dolphins off Anglesey. © Peter Evans/SWF