Watching cetaceans from our coastline
The Isle of Man is a fantastic place to observe whales, dolphins and porpoises from the coastline. All of our key species come close enough inshore allowing you to see them from our coastal paths and view points. The locations on the map are all good places to potentially spot cetaceans; all are accessible by road and have parking. The Sound and Niarbyl have lovely cafes with superb views over the sea. Scroll down the page to read about each location in detail. If you fancy a trip to try and spot some cetaceans, then there are a few hints and tips to consider:
- It is best to look on a nice calm day as wind equals a choppy sea, making cetaceans difficult to spot
- Take a pair of binoculars if you have them
- Take a camping chair and snacks, not forgetting plenty of water
- Dress appropriately for the weather; warm clothes or plenty of sun-cream!
- Look out for disturbance at the water surface; odd areas of white water can be caused by dolphins churning up the water as they come to the surface
- Look out for bird activity especially diving Gannets. These huge birds have exceptional eyesight and spend their time seeking out dolphins or a porpoise in the hope it might lead them to a nice shoal of fish. Rafts of birds can also be an indicator. Get your binoculars on the area and spend a good while looking.
- Be very patient and don’t be disappointed if you don’t see anything. It is no good looking for a few minutes, you need to be super patient. Pack a picnic and a camping chair and spend an hour or two looking out. If you don’t see anything, take a break and try another time. Once you see your first porpoise you will start to see more, once you know what you are looking for and get your eye in.
Take a notebook and please report all sightings information to us. Most importantly we need time and location of the sighting, the species if known, what the animal was doing and direction of travel. If you are unsure of anything, just take notes and drop us an email.
During the summer months we run public sea watches for anyone to come along to. Keep an eye on our events page or become a member to keep up to date with private members sea watches.
What might I spot and where? Resident dolphins Moonlight and Starlight can be seen close inside the bay anywhere from the groyne to the old swimming baths at all times of year. During the winter mid-size pods (20-30) of bottlenose dolphins may be seen from the castle/breakwater. Potential for Risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise, basking shark and common dolphin.
Parking and nearest amenities- Niarbyl Bay Cafe.
What might I spot and where? Niarbyl is a brilliant spot for all cetacean species as well as basking sharks. In summer we frequently see Risso’s dolphins, minke whale and harbour porpoise, common dolphins occasionally come close inshore here
Parking and nearest amenities – The Cafe at the Sound.
What might I spot and where? The Sound is one of the best spots to see all 5 species of cetacean. There is a high level of productively due to the strong tidal rips that go through the Sound working to stir up prey species, thus providing easy pickings for dolphins and porpoises. This is a very good spot for Risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise and minke whale during the summer, we also occasionally see common dolphins and basking shark. During the winter and very occasionally in the summer we may see mid-size pods (20-30) of bottlenose dolphins. The islet between the mainland and the Calf of Man, Kitterland, is the main hauling site for grey seals on the Isle of Man. You may also see the not-so-common common seal.
What might I spot and where? Port St Mary Ledges is one of the best spots on the island to see harbour porpoise, they can be almost guaranteed on a very calm day in the summer. You want to sit near the war memorial as this directly overlooks these ledges of limestone rock which you can see at low tide. Here, the crevices between each rock provide excellent shoaling grounds for small fish, which in turn provides the perfect feeding ground for our porpoises. Here, we can also see Risso’s dolphins, minke whale and common dolphin in the summer and mid-size pods of bottlenose dolphins during the winter.
Langness and Turkeylands
Parking- for Fort Island park at Castletown Golf Links, or drive along Langness peninsula where the road ends at a car park. For Turkeylands park at Cafe Bar Two Six and walk to the end of the runway.
What might I spot and where? Anywhere around Langness and Fort Island/Derbyhaven has potential for sightings. In summer it is a superb spot for Risso’s dolphin and harbour porpoise and October-March sees large bottlenose dolphin pods (100+ animals). Derbyhaven and Turkeylands (located at the end of the runway extension) have become hot-spots for minke whales in recent years between September and November.
Parking- Anywhere along Marine drive from either side of the road block (note that you cannot drive the entirety of Marine drive) We tend to park at the toll gate or Douglas head.
What might I spot and where? Marine drive is a fantastic spotting site as you are very elevated and can often look down on dolphins or whales and they swim past. We usually watch from the Toll gate (the Arches) but anywhere along the drive is good including Little Ness and Port Soderick. March and April sees Risso’s dolphins returning to Manx waters and usually first sighted from Marine drive, very close inshore. Risso’s can be seen here through the summer, harbour porpoise all year round and large pods of bottlenose dolphins (+100) during the winter between October and March. September and October sees large aggregations of minke whale off Marine drive, as well as off Onchan head and Laxey and Bulgham bay. During this time many minke whales can be seen feeding off Marine drive for entire days and weeks, some within a couple hundred metres from the coast. In previous autumns humpback, sei and fin whale have been seen, but these are rare sightings (once in every 5 years or so).
What might I spot and where? Large pods of bottlenose between October and March and occasional mid-size pods in summer. Minke whales in the autumn.
Parking- The promenade, high street or St Pauls Square Closest amenities-public toilets at St Pauls Square
What might I spot and where? Resident dolphins Moonlight and Starlight can be seen very close inshore anywhere in the bay at any time of year. During the winter we see large bottlenose pods and occasional mid-size pods in the summer.
Parking and amenities– At the Visitor Centre, there is a port-a-loo around the back, you may need to ask for a key. Note that the Visitor Centre is only open May-September
What might I spot and where? Use the viewing platform at the car park, it offers you height in an otherwise flat location. Resident dolphins Moonlight and Starlight swim past here. It is also a good spot for harbour porpoise and possibility of mid-size bottlenose dolphin pods.
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