Where to see wildlife by ferry

Posted by John Sannaee at 02:09 on Tuesday 31 August 2010

Spotting a dolphin is easier than you might think on ferries from and to the UK. Photo: Richard HammondSpotting a dolphin is easier than you might think on ferries from and to the UK. Photo: Richard HammondYou're standing on board a ferry speeding you to your holiday, the sun is shining on the crests of the waves, a fresh sea wind is blowing in your hair... What could possibly make this moment more perfect? How about the sight of a school of dolphins dancing around the prow of the ship, silver and glistening magically? Or the unmistakable image of a whale's tail fluking out in the water ahead, a giant sea beast gliding majestically through the ocean beside you? Well, amazing and unlikely as it may sound, these are genuine possibilities on ferry journeys from the UK.

On board a Brittany Ferries voyage from Portsmouth to Santander (or Plymouth to Santander), you'll have the chance to spot a huge range of cetaceans, from common dolphins and playful harbour porpoises to some of the world's largest whales, including Sperm Whales and giant Fin Whales. Indeed, Brittany Ferries boast that sighting one of these creatures from their observation decks and spacious lounges (complete, of course, with wide windows), are "likely." But it's not just en route to Spain that whale and dolphin sightings are possible - even in the Channel, there are plenty of small dolphins and porpoises, and the quick Irish Sea crossing is teaming with marine life. You can make the crossing to Ireland with Stena Line and Irish Ferries (as well as P&O Irish Sea and Fastnet Line), and even Ireland's leading cetacean conservation society, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, uses the ferry services to complete detailed surveys and research into numbers of these glorious princes of the ocean, which include the distinctive and elusive Minke Whale, a truly beautiful animal.

Impressive though whales and dolphins undeniably are, they are not the only creatures you can spot on a ferry crossing. The waters around the UK and the rest of Europe are rich feeding grounds for a huge range of seabirds - areas around Guernsey (travel with Condor Ferries) and in the Solent (between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, make the crossing with Wightlink or Red Funnel) are particular heavens for birds and bird lovers, with wading birds such as curlew and plovers, as well as brent geese, and the world's southernmost gannet colonies all visible from vessels crossing these waters. On the Irish Sea crossing, as well as having the chance to witness the spectacular site of gannets diving for food, there is a whole host of other birdlife to spot, from guillemots and cormorants to razorbills and pretty kittiwakes.

Catch a glimpse of a mighty whale on board a ferry. Photo © Brittany Ferries/Dylan Walker, ORCACatch a glimpse of a mighty whale on board a ferry. Photo © Brittany Ferries/Dylan Walker, ORCABest of all, you can observe the profusion of wildlife around or shores and waters safe in the knowledge that you are making the minimum of impact on their habitat and behaviour. Unlike some wildlife tours, you do not venture up too close to birds' breeding grounds, disturb the whales or aggressively pursue any of these beautiful creatures. The aim of the ferry is still, first and foremost, to transport passengers (and sometimes freight) from a to b, and the undeniable boon of wildlife sightings is just that: a wonderful added bonus.

For details of ferry routes operating out of the UK, how to get to the ports, onward travel information, starting prices and more, check out our Ferry Journey Planner.

Check out greentraveller founder Richard Hammond's blog posts for more information on responsible whale watching holidays and, more generally, responsible wildlife watching holidays.

For ideas on ethical and eco-friendly holidays with a chance to spot some of the planet's amazing animals, check out our featured wildlife-watching holidays.

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