Sometimes we can become a bit blasé when it comes to appreciating the wealth of wildlife around our coast. How often do we stand gazing out to sea with our thoughts elsewhere and not really on looking for signs of wildlife? Or in a boat heading out for a dive with our noses buried in our gear and talking with our buddy about the price of the car park? It’s only when we raise our heads above the gunnels and keep watch that we will see things that are truly wonderful. Dolphins passing, Basking Sharks working the tide lines, Gannets plunging into the sea around us like streamlined missiles. How many have noticed Peregrines patrolling the cliff edges while heading along the coast for a dive, or the secretive Fox staring at us from the cover of cliff top bushes? Perhaps we just don’t look hard enough.
I recently met Captain Keith who runs AKWildlife Cruises out of Falmouth in Cornwall. He invited me out on a short trip where he and his crew Sophie were set to guide a small group of snorkellers along part of the northern cliffs from Falmouth bay. In his ‘welcome on board’ speech he talked excitedly about all the animals we had a chance of seeing. There was no shortage of them. Seals – Grey and Common, Dolphins – Bottlenose and Risso’s, Sunfish, Porpoise, Basking Sharks and all manner of bird species. Gannets, Guillemots, Puffins, Cormorants, Shags, Gulls, Razorbills, Peregrines and more.
The enthusiasm in which Captain Keith described all the possible sightings we were about to have got us all hooked. He also talked about the whales and sharks but not for this trip as we were staying too far in-shore. On other days he has had encounters with Fin, Minke Whales and Blue sharks and occasionally comes across super pods of over a 1,000 Common dolphins.
At this point I have to confess to being just a little sceptical as over the years I have met many wildlife guides who talked the talk but quite often failed to walk the walk. Nevertheless, I found Captain Keith’s enthusiasm catching and it was with great hope and excitement we left the dock.
Two minutes after we had cast off, Captain Keith started to talk to us over his microphone and speaker from the ‘flying bridge’. He told us how Porpoise and Seals are often seen far inside the estuary and we should keep our eyes on the look out at all times. It was not long before we came across a couple of Grey Seals hauled-out on some rocks. The seals weren’t bothered by the boat and allowed us to get close. Captain Keith gave great information on the animals before continuing out into open sea and along the coast.
We dropped the six snorkellers in under the cliffs with Sophie and drifted nearby to keep an eye on them. While we waited a Peregrine cruised just inside us, back and forth along the cliff face. What a spectacular bird. Captain Keith told me it was the female of a pair that nested nearby and then described in great detail their life history. Meanwhile Seals continually bobbed up around the snorkelers just out of sight from them. That’s just what Seals do. Occasionally they do get curious and bold and come to visit underwater; that’s when we have those unforgettable interactions.
During the 4 hour trip we visited the Guillemot and Razorbill colony on a small offshore island. We had a brief visit from a small pod of Risso’s Dolphins, watched giant Barrel Jellyfish cruise by just below the surface and counted numerous species of sea birds flying to some secret destination. It was a wonderful day and throughout it all Captain Keith kept us enthralled with his enthusiasm and knowledge of the wildlife we saw.
At the end of the trip as I thanked Captain Keith for a great day, he invited me out the following week for a longer trip, way offshore, to look for Minke Whales, Dolpins and Blue Sharks. I said yes without any hesitation. To my surprise Captain Keith said his best encounters with Minkes and the occasional Fin Whale is over the winter months. Very exciting!
For more information about Captain Keith’s wildlife trips, visit www.akwildlifecruises.co.uk.