Mammals

Marine mammals are a diverse group of mammal that are primarily ocean-dwelling or depend on the ocean for food. They include the cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), and the pinnipeds (seals).

Lundy has a resident population of Atlantic Grey seals and it is a fantastic location for spotting cetaceans. Dolphins & porpoises are often seen from MS Oldenburg on the crossing from the mainland, even the occasional whale! Lundy itself rises 400ft above sea level, making it an ideal view platform to survey the sea. During the summer months large pods of dolphins can be seen passing the island and whales such as Minke, Pilot and even an occasional Orca.

Harbour Porpoise - Phocoena phocoena

The common or Harbour porpoise is the only member of the porpoise family found in European waters. Often seen relatively close in shore on the mainland, they are not commonly seen around Lundy.  This may have something to do with their small size in comparison to other cetaceans and the fact they rarely breach high out of the water.  Instead they can be observed surfacing in a smooth, slow black arc several times before diving for a few minutes.  Growing to a maximum 2 metres in length, they have a blunt shaped head and small triangular dorsal fin which identifies them from other cetaceans.
 

Common Dolphin - Delphinus delphis

Growing to about 2.5 metres in length it has attractive 'figure of eight' markings along its flanks which are often a light creamy colour.  This coupled with a long narrow beak and upright triangular dorsal fin makes it easy to identify it at close range.  Often seen in large groups they are sociable, highly active cetaceans capable of acrobatic leaps from the water.  The common dolphin is a fish eater and feeds far out to sea where they prey on squid and small fish.  Adults give birth every few years and a female will produce only around five calves her their lifetime. 

 

Risso's Dolphin - Grampus griseus

The Risso’s Dolphin is a large, dark black-blue dolphin with a prominent square head which is strikingly different to the pointed heads of other beaked dolphins. At close quarters, the skin of a Risso’s dolphin is scarred, particularly so in older individuals which is often due to fighting with rival dolphins but may also be due to encounters with squid which make up a large proportion of their diet.  When feeding these dolphins can dive for up to half an hour and while considered not as sociable as other dolphins they can often be seen swimming alongside ships.

 

Minke Whale - Balaenoptera acutorostrata

In the British Isles the minke whale is the most commonly seen whale. It is the smallest of the roqual whales - a group of whales which have expandable pleated throats, however it is also the most abundant with a global population of around one million.  Minke Whales grow to 10 metres in length, are brown/grey in colour on top and white underneath, and can be distinguished from other roquals at close range by the usual appearance of white banding on their short and pointed flippers.  They are torpedo shaped, with a small single curved dorsal fin set far back towards their tail, which can help with identification from a distance.  They live alone or in small groups and can dive for 20 mins however it is uncommon to see the blow from this whale due to it beginning to exhale as it nears the sea surface, which minimises the blow out of water.   

Like other roquals Minke whale feed mainly in cold water regions eating much less during breeding where they migrate to the tropics.  Instead of teeth, however, they have hundreds of baleen plates hanging down 20-30 cm from the top jaw from which they sieve small fish and planktonic animals from the water. 

 

Atlantic Grey Seals - Halichoerus grypus

Throughout the summer months, visiting seals arrive to take advantage of fish stocks in the sea around the island which swells the population to over 150 individuals.  These are among the largest, rarest seals in the world with the UK grey seal population accounting for half of the world population. 

Seals are gregarious animals which live and feed in groups.  On Lundy they often haul out in large numbers onto secluded beaches or in sea caves at the north end of the island.  Their dappled coats camouflage them effectively against their rocky environment making them easily overlooked from the island coast path. 

Male and female Grey seals can be distinguished by their size and head shape.  Bull seals (male) are large bulky animals which can grow up to three metres in length and weigh 250 kg.  They have a ‘Roman’ nose, and heavy thickset shoulders wrinkled in appearance and a very dark, finely mottled coat.  In contrast cow seals (females) are smaller with a slender head and shoulders.  Their coats are typically mid-grey, paler on the underside, with large dark markings.  Females are also generally longer lived than the males, reaching 35 years of age and males 20 -25 years old.

The white coated pups feed on the mother’s rich fatty milk, gaining 2 kg a day.  After three weeks and treble their initial weight, the pups moult and are then abandoned to fend for themselves.

Grey seal pups are normally born between late August and early November each year, with some pups also being born outside of this time. Newly born pups have white fur which gradually shed as the pups reach weaning at approximately one month of age. Mothers will often leave their pups whilst they swim or feed and so, if you do see a pup that is alone, please don’t approach it as the mother is generally not far away and disturbance may disrupt the parental bond. 

Lundy’s seals are very playful and enjoy interacting with divers, snorkelers and swimmers. The seals will often initiate fun and games, including pulling on fins and “kissing”. If you are interested in swimming or diving with seals, please refer to our Seal Code Of Conduct to ensure that your experience is memorable for both you and the seals. 

The seals can be seen at various points around the island, though the Landing Bay, ¾ Wall Bay and the North End are arguably the best locations for seal watching. It is recommended that you use binoculars whilst seal watching, as this will allow you to get a great view of the seals whilst minimising the possibility of disturbing or scaring the seals. 

In addition to Atlantic seals, Lundy also receives occasional visits from Harbour seals. Harbour seals are smaller than Atlantic grey seals, measuring a maximum length of approximately 1.8m. Harbour seals can also be recognised by their comparatively shorter snout. Whilst Atlantic Grey seals prefer wind and wave swept rocky shores, harbour seals are generally seen in more sheltered areas including beaches.

Seal watching is a rewarding pastime and it is even possible to identify individual seals by their own unique markings.  There is some considerable variation in colour however with variations of dark brown, grey, fawn-brown or pale silvery grey.  Seal surveys currently carried out by the island wardens are helping to build a photographic account of Lundy’s population and further our understanding of the island colony.

If you have any photos of our Lundy seals, why not send them on to the warden via warden@lundyisland.co.uk along with the date and the location the photos were taken.