The richness of wildlife is partly attributed to converging water currents, including nutrient rich water from estuaries along the Bristol Channel found east of the island, and cooler yet more clear waters from the Atlantic Ocean west of the island. The considerable diversity of wildlife found around Lundy reflects the coastline’s varied exposure. The west coast is exposed to prevailing westerly winds and swells from the Atlantic Ocean. In comparison the east coast remains relatively sheltered from prevailing winds, and so, is ideal for habitats such as sandbanks and reefs, with their associated species. Due to the rarity and importance of its marine life the waters around Lundy have been protected since 1971 when the island became a voluntary Marine Nature Reserve. Later this protection was formalised, with Lundy becoming the UK’s first statutory Marine Nature Reserve. Since then the area has received Special Area of Conservation (SAC), in addition to becoming the UK’s first Marine Conservation Zone in (2010). This legal protection safeguards Lundy’s marine life, allowing it to return to a more natural state that is free from destructive activities.
Lundy has a resident population of approximately 180 Atlantic grey seals. These seals can be seen just about anywhere on the island, either “hauled” out on the rocks enjoying the sun, or in the water. Whilst in the water they can dive for up to 20 minutes at a time in search of fish, and are common sights in and around the kelp forests. Male seals, or bulls, have prominent Roman noses which can help to differentiate them from the relatively straight nosed female seals, or cows. Males also tend to be considerably larger than the females with some males measuring 2.5m in length and weighing up to 350kg, whilst females are approximately 2m in length and 250kg in weight (as pictured, with male above and female below). Both sexes are vocal, and are frequently heard snorting, roaring and wailing. These sounds can be amplified by sea caves or gullies, giving the impression of mournful ghostly echoes.
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 look at our interaction guidelines 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, Brazen Ward 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.
Grey seal pups are born between September and November each year, with some pups also being born outside of this time. Newly born pups have white fur (pictured left), 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.
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.
The habitats that surround the island are home to many different varieties of fish, with the most common being the wrasse, blennies and gobies. These can be found meandering through the kelp forests or hiding in the rockpools from predators when the tide goes out. Unusually one fish can be found under damp rocks at low tide, the clingfish has ornate patterns across its body and a sucker underneath.
During the summer months the island is often visited by basking sharks (pictured left), which come to feed on the plankton (microscopic plants and animals) in Lundy’s waters. These gentle giants are the world’s second largest fish (up to 5 tonnes and 10m long) and can be seen from May onwards, with July and August being the best months for sightings. The majority of sightings tend to be on the east coast, however, they can be seen at any point around the island. They are easiest to see on a calm day when the sea is flat, as you can more easily spot their black dorsal fin breaking the surface of the water.
The island’s location between the Atlantic and the Bristol Channel means that our marine visitor list also includes rarities such as leatherback turtles and unusual visitors such as Sunfish. Sunfish are the largest bony fish growing up to 2.4m long and 4m tall, and weighing up to 2 tonnes. These fish are silver iridescent, with prominent spots across their dorsal region and tail. Sunfish are sluggish swimmers, either swimming on their side, or upright with their tall dorsal fin showing above the water.
Dolphins, whales & porpoises
Dolphins, whales and porpoises are part of a group called Cetaceans. Sightings of various cetaceans are not uncommon whilst journeying over to the island on the MS Oldenburg and whilst on the island, cetaceans can occasionally be seen from the cliffs, with some of the best viewing points being the island’s South East coast. The most commonly seen species around the island are bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins (pictured left) and harbour porpoises, but many other species can also seen including minke whales, Risso dolphin and the long-finned pilot whale. Large numbers of feeding gannets can give away the location of cetaceans, as this indicates the presence of a large shoal of fish which would be very inviting for a passing whale, dolphin or porpoise. Sightings are usually in the summer months, however, occasional sightings might occur at other times of year.
Many visitors to Lundy spot the many varieties of jellyfish and comb jellies that glisten on the surface of the shallow waters around the Landing Bay. Comb jellies (pictured right) are often confused with being a type of jellyfish, however they are from a completely separate group of animals and are named after the rows of combs that run along the length of the body. These combs are beautifully iridescent and can be seen shimmering with purples, greens and blues.
These visitors come throughout the year and in many varieties. The most common jellyfish during the warmer months are the moon, compass (pictured left) and purple jellyfish, whilst in the cooler months, By-the-wind-sailors can be seen floating on the surface of the water.
There are different varieties of cold water corals in the seas around Lundy, all of which are of particular conservation importance as they are rare and Lundy marks the most northerly edge of their range.
The pink sea fan, Eunicella verrucosa, is a colony of tiny creatures that grow in rocky areas where there is little sand and a regular movement of water which brings them the tiny plankton (microscopic plants and animals) on which they feed. The fan was once a favourite memento for some uneducated divers and was at risk from damage through the use of towed gear, therefore it is now one of the few marine creatures that are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Their delicate nature means that they grow at an extremely slow rate of 1cm per year (under good conditions) with some colonies currently around 50cm tall.
The unique underwater conditions allow not one, but five species of cup coral to inhabit the south and east coasts of the island. Cup corals differ to sea fans in that they are solitary individual corals which are generally found in small clusters. Species include the rare Sunset, Scarlet and Gold, Devonshire, Weymouth carpet and Southern cup corals.