Isles of Scilly Part One – And I didn’t even leave the boat…

I’ve recently returned from the Isles of Scilly, a naturalists paradise (and a paradise for artists, photographers, really anyone who values natural beauty, peace, and quiet). As such, I’ve got a fair few photos to share, which I’m going to do in a series of posts through this week, beyond the usual 30 Days Wild ones.

I’m going to start with the ferry ride from Penzance to the Scillies, because it featured probably one of my personal top five wildlife watching moments.

While I get travel sick on buses, cars, trains, and to a lesser extent planes, I generally love being on boats. I want to be out on the deck regardless of the weather, scanning the horizon for who-knows-what.

On this occasion my fondest wish was to see cetaceans – whales, porpoises and dolphins. I’ve seen dolphins and porpoises before, but always from clifftops, or in some other way at a distance. But the three hour ferry journey promised plenty of opportunity to rectify this.

Two hours in though, and there had been nothing mammalian to note. Plenty of birds, including gulls, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, and shearwaters. But nothing like a dolphin, and a thick sea fret had reduced visibility to a few metres and sent most of the passengers scuttling indoors, while I clutched my damp clothes to me, screwed my hat down on my head, and presumably cut a very miserable figure!

But then, as the fret lifted and the islands appeared on the horizon, I spotted distant movement. Something moving in then out of the swell. Was it? Yes. “Dolphins!” I shouted out loud, alerting everyone else. Half-a-dozen, arcing in and out of the water. I’d be happy enough with this, but their trajectory was clearly taking them right to us. How good might this get?

Basically, as good as it could possibly get was the answer, as the group came right to the side of the ferry. Over the next ten minutes it became clear there was a pod of at least 20 animals in three groups, and they gave us the best possible views.

My excitement got the better of me, and for a long while I forgot I had a camera. But I did eventually remember, at which I discovered a new problem. Taking a photo of a rapidly moving dolphin, from a swaying ferry, with the sun behind you, isn’t very easy. Timing is everything, and I didn’t really have it. Most of my dolphin photos look like this:

There is technically a dolphin in this photo

In the better efforts, the animals are at least out of the water. But I’m still slightly behind them.

But I did get a few lucky shots where their heads and bodies are visible too.

The striped flank and almost yellow colouring helps identify these as Common Short-Beaked Dolphins, the most common in UK waters.

The day wasn’t over yet though. With the dolphins still on show, my partner pointed further out and said “there’s something out there too”. I looked, and could see a sail boat, but also a flock of gannets following something submerged beneath the waves. Now, it could be a shoal of fish. But this can also be a good sign of the presence of whales. I stared. I waited. Then, a sinuous black shape broke the surface slowly, revealing a solitary dorsal fin. A whale! A Minke Whale to be specific.

“Whale!” I shouted, and now none of us knew where to look. The dolphins were showier, and nearer, but a whale was a treat.

So there it was. One of my all-time greatest moments, and I’d not even reached our destination. Surely this boded well for the holiday ahead?

This entry was posted in Birds, Mammals, Scillies, Why watch wildlife? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Isles of Scilly Part One – And I didn’t even leave the boat…

  1. Pingback: Isles of Scilly Part Two – Birdlife | Why watch wildlife?

  2. Pingback: The Isles of Scilly: The Wrap-up Part 3 | Why watch wildlife?

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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