Gibraltar (unplanned day 2) – Whales 0 – Striped Dolphins 10

So, first apologies for the delay in posting, its been pretty busy and I haven’t been keeping up!

So, in the last post, we weren’t sure whether we were going on any whale-watching trips today, as the wind was too high (15-17 mph). We rang round all the companies in Tarifa and, sadly, all trips had been cancelled. We hastily put plan B into action, calling up a couple of companies in Gibraltar to see if they had dolphin watching trips on which, as they mostly stayed in the bay, would be sheltered from the wind. Luckily, trips were running and they had space for 2 more people!

We managed to book on two trips, one trip in the morning,  followed by another at lunch time.  The first, at 10.00 was with Dolphin Adventure, who run two boats in the Ocean Village marina. There office is right there too. The trip ran for about an hour and a quarter and after heading out through the marina, ran through the bay and just out into the straight of Gibraltar.  We did manage to see a few striped dolphins on the trip, which was a relief as we weren’t sure if we were going to see anything at all that day. The company seems to cater mainly for the tourists coming off the cruise ships that stopped at the Rock and as such, they were pretty efficient at getting everyone on and off, but it also meant it did feel kind of commercial and you share the boat with about 30 other people.

The second trip we booked was with Dolphin Safari, who are also based in Ocean Village and have an office there too. The boat did leave about half an hour late, but this can sometimes be the case depending on what the boat did/didn’t see on the previous trip. The boat is smaller and we only have 9 people aboard, which makes for more intimate viewing. The staff in the office were really friendly and also helpful on the phone when we were desperately trying to find something to do that day.

We headed out and across the bay (different route to Dolphin Adventure) towards Algeciras on the Spanish side of the bay. After about 40 minutes of cruising without any sightings, we turned out towards the Straight of Gibraltar and rougher waters. Just as we thought it was probably time to turn back, we started to see striped dolphins. Soon we saw probably 20 or so in different groups, many of them leaping out of the water and getting the “classic” dolphin encounter of them jumping in the bow wave as we motored along. This was really good viewing and although it didn’t quite make up for the cancelled whale trips, it did mean we saw something great that day.

We picked up our hire car and made the 1 hour journey to Tarifa and just as we were about to descend the hill down into town, we spotted some Griffon Vultures riding the thermals and pulled over to observe them for a few minutes.

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Griffon Vulture, Tarifa Spain

Wildlife watching is a game of patience, you can spend hours and see nothing at all and, often you may have to wait until the last minute until you finally see something that will make it all worthwhile. It’s important to just the experience being out in the open enjoying nature and if you’re luck, you might be rewarded.

Cornwall day one – seals and seabirds trip in Penzance

  • We arrived in Looe, Cornwall last night, staying in a lovely little B&B called The Little Mainstone Guest House. It’s on the West bank of the river overlooking the harbour and West Looe (where most of the cafes, restaurants and shops are located. It takes just a couple of minutes walk to get there over the bridge. We started the day with a full cooked breakfast (veggie option), the owners got up and made it early for us as we had an early start.
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Looe, Cornwall, at dusk

Today, we drove across to Penzance (about 1hr 20mins) for our first seal trip of the year. We went with Marine Discovery, who operate from on office on the Albert Pier and sail on a catamaran, which was very welcome today, as it was pretty windy and choppy. The catamaran is a lot more stable in this weather than a single-hulled boat.

We set out using the engines and the first stop was St Clements Island off the coast of Mousehole, where there were a number of grey seals who had hauled themselves out onto the rocks. The whole area is great for seabirds, we saw a number of Cormorants, Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags, Fulmars, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets.

The Gannets are the UK’s biggest seabird and they’re huge. They are also good indicators of where you may see porpoises, just look for them diving, which highlights where fish may be found nearby and the porpoises might not be far away.

We then set sail, and headed out to the Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, which is a beautiful open-air theatre that looks out to see. Using the sail just adds a little something to a boat trip as you don’t get any engine noise masking the sound of the sea or the birds. We turned turned round at Porthcurno and headed back to Penzance, but closer to shore looking for harbour porpoises. We luckily saw 4 or 5, but they were being quite shy and we only got fleeting glances and no good shots.

It was windy and very cold on the boat and in spite of Heather’s layers (1 thermal top, a wooly jumper, a hoodie, a padded jacket and 2 waterproof javkets), not to mention 7 items of headgear (1 cap, 2 woolly hats, hoodie and 3 coat hoods), we were frozen when we got off the boat and in a state of near hypothermia. If you’re going out on a boat trip at this time of year, wrap up!

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Being prepared! Wet weather gear is essential for spring boat trips in the UK.