The five best places to spot dolphins in West Cornwall

The five best places to spot dolphins in West Cornwall

Common dolphin and calf, Image by Adrian Langdon

With 400 miles of unspoilt coastline, it’s no surprise that Cornwall is a hotspot for marine life! But there’s one part of Cornwall’s coastline that has it all in terms of dolphin spotting, as our Marine Project Apprentice Lucy Luck reveals.

Cornwall is home to an array of truly wonderful wildlife. In fact, it’s is amongst the best places in the UK to see such majestic marine megafauna! The diversity of wildlife found in West Cornwall is what makes it so pure and special. Every year, particularly in the warmer summer months, dolphins and porpoises can be clearly seen from clifftops, harbours, and beaches as they feast on fish stocks and play amongst the waves.

What species of dolphins can be spotted in West Cornwall?

There are lots of different species of dolphin, and just one species of porpoise, that can be commonly seen in West Cornwall:

Risso's Dolphin breaching

Risso's Dolphin by Niki Clear

Find out more about our marine mammals

2021 has seen many incredible marine life sightings in West Cornwall, including the pair of orca spotted off the Minack Theatre in May. Here’s just some of the dolphin sightings from West Cornwall that have been sent into the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS) team in the last few months:

  • Common Porpoise at Hayle Bar on 11 November
  • Bottlenose Dolphin at Pendeen on 25 October
  • Common Dolphin at Pendeen on 15 October
  • Common Dolphin in Mount’s Bay on 15 October
  • Common Dolphin at Cape Cornwall on 6 October

Where can I see dolphins in West Cornwall?

Cornwall is without a doubt one of the best places to see dolphins and porpoises in the UK, particularly down in the South West. The locations on the map below show some of the top places to see these curious creatures in the West of Cornwall.

Map of the five best locations to see dolphins in West Cornwall

Map of the five best locations to see dolphins in West Cornwall

Mount’s Bay

The waters around Mount’s Bay are home to an amazing array of marine life. This patch of coastline is heavily important to the health of Cornwall’s seas and thus became a designated Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in January 2016. With good vantage points around the bay, such as Battery Rocks next to Jubilee Pool and Long Rock beach, and several Wildlife Safe (WiSe) accredited wildlife tour boat operators based in the area, keen wildlife watchers have amazing opportunities to see Cornwall’s dolphins up close and personal.

St Ives Bay

St Ives is a place of outstanding natural beauty, with a wide range of enchanting coastal trails to explore, towering clifftops and insane sea views! The National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) station at St Ives provides an incredible place to see dolphins. Just last year, a superpod of up to 400 dolphins were spotted off Cornwall’s coast. So grab a pasty, find a place to camp out and soon enough you will encounter lots of Cornwall’s infamous marine life!

Just last year, a superpod of up to 400 dolphins were spotted off Cornwall’s coast.
Common Dolphin, Image by Tony Mills (featured in Cornwall Wildlife Trust's 2022 Wild Cornwall Calendar)

Common Dolphin, Image by Tony Mills (featured in Cornwall Wildlife Trust's 2022 Wild Cornwall Calendar)

Gwennap Head, Land’s End

This iconic location, where land meets sea, is a wildlife watching hot spot. Not only does Land’s End offer breathtaking ocean views, but also incredibly diverse populations of marine life. Several species of dolphin and porpoise can be spotted from the spectacular cliffs!

Gwennan Head is a beautiful headland around stunning granite cliffs of Tol-Peden-Penwith (‘The Holed Headland of Penwith’), where the sea crashes dramatically through an underwater cave. Tucked away around the coast from Land’s End, the small village of Porthgwarra can be found. With an ex-coastguard building transformed into a Coastwatch station, Gwennap Head is a popular location to spot wildlife amongst naturalists.

Sennen Cove

Sennen Cove is a surfer’s paradise, not just for humans but for dolphins too! Dolphins can be seen cruising waves all year round, but sightings are most frequent between April and October. At high tide, the best views are from the car park, whilst at low tide, these magnificent mammals will sometimes come close to the beach to feed.

The Lizard

Lizard Point is infamous as one of the most southernly points in the UK. This prominent position at the tip of the Lizard peninsula offers far and wide sea views and an incredible vantage point to see marine life. The Lizard is home to one of the largest nature reserves in the South West and the wonderful Lizard National Trust Watchpoint, where we often hold our Seaquest Southwest public sea watches. This spot is well worth a visit!

What is the Cornwall Marine & Coastal Code of Conduct?

Cornwall’s coastal and marine wildlife is essential for our economy, our wellbeing and enjoyment of of a beautiful Cornwall. Unfortunately, it’s under pressure and therefore needs your help. The Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code aims to tackle the important issue of marine disturbance and minimise the effect to marine life from encounters with people.

You can find out more, including codes of conduct for when you are on or by the sea, on the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group (CMCCG) website below.

Learn more about the Marine & Coastal Code

It may be tempting to befriend a dolphin and get close to it. However, approaching or swimming with dolphins and making loud noises in their presence is not recommended, as it can cause severe disturbance and distress. In fact, intentional or not, the disturbance or harassment of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) is an offence under UK law, with fines reaching as much as £5,000. At Cornwall Wildlife Trust, we urge anyone who witnesses an incident of marine disturbance to report it immediately to our 24-hour hotline on 0345 201 2626.

The best way to enjoy wildlife watching is to grab yourself a good pair of binoculars and with a little bit of patience, you can watch the wonders of the ocean unravel in front of your very eyes!

Jet skier scaring common dolphins and calves near Newquay in July 2021, video by Seaquest Southwest volunteer Ian Boreham

How can I learn more about Cornwall’s dolphins?

Why not join us on Monday 29th November for our ‘Wildlife Matters LIVE – Cornwall’s Bottlenose Dolphins’ online event! Discover the wonders of the South West’s resident pod of bottlenose dolphins; what makes them so incredibly special, why they need protection and how you can get a glimpse of this impressive pod.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Wildlife Matters LIVE - Cornwall's Bottlenose Dolphins Event Panelists

Wildlife Matters LIVE - Cornwall's Bottlenose Dolphins Panelists

The endless support for our Dolphin and Porpoise Appeal this year has been phenomenal, and by attending this event you’ll be able to hear how your generous donations have already made a different to our work.

Sign up to Wildlife Matters LIVE

Alternatively, if you haven’t already, please donate to our Dolphin & Porpoise Appeal to help dolphins and porpoises thrive in our Cornish seas! Your donations can help our marine team carry out vital activities to reduce marine disturbance, mitigate against noise pollution and increase sustainable fishing practices. All donations, big and small, help our marine team carry out their vital work.

Find out more about our Dolphin and Porpoise Appeal


Your guide to Cornwall's dolphins and porpoises

Cornwall is among the best places in the UK to see these charismatic creatures. Find out where to see them in Cornwall, why they're threatened and actions you can take to help protect them. 

Find out more

Bottlenose Dolphin, Image by John MacPherson/2020VISION