Chasing Tuna

It’s not easy looking for Tuna in the ‘Big Blue’. Sir David Attenborough said so last night on Blue Planet II.

It took his team three weeks.They had a sizeable ship bulging with technology and knowledgeable scientists and were looking in the tropical Pacific, where Tuna live. Oh, and a helicopter. I had a plastic kayak less than two foot wide laden only with a small camera and some out-of-date rolls for lunch (reduced for quick sale, three days ago), and was looking for Tuna near Fowey in South Cornwall, which is really not where they are supposed to live.

So, as usual, the odds were heavily stacked in favour of spectacular failure, but having glimpsed a breaching tuna here a couple of days previously, I was absolutely set on making the effort to get one on camera, while the calm conditions lasted. Definitely not easy because after a single jump they are gone until another one pops up for a fraction of a second somewhere else , and so on. I was just hoping for a more sustained feeding ‘event’ within camera shot of the kayak which might involve a succession of leaps.

Companions today were Jeremy and Jane, better than any eyes in the sky ( and also scientists, sort of). They were paddling their well-seasoned Ocean Kayak Malibu 2, and although it looks like the sort of craft that was designed for a Sunday afternoon saunter on the Serpentine, they pushed it along at a speed that I had difficulty matching in my much narrower and theoretically faster Cobra Expedition.

Out past Fowey

We were assisted by an outgoing tide as we sped between Fowey and Polruan. and turned east once out onto the open coast. Thrilling as always, and even better today under cloudless skies. The only slight problem was that there was a steady easterly wind which would make offshore paddling a bit unrelaxing, but I was hopeful that it would drop.

For the time being we hugged the coast and dropped in to the stunning, sandy Lantic Bay for a quick leg stretch.

Lantic Bay

By this time Jane’s wildlife spotting eyes had been finely tuned and she clocked up the first three interesting observations of the day. A lard-laden seal hauled out on a rock, a Garfish skipping across the surface, and a surging shoal of baitfish. Jeremy spotted a Red Admiral butterfly (not bad for late November) when we stopped next at Lantivet, while I was yet to get my eyeballs off the mark.

Jeremy and Jane, Pencarrow Head

It was time to head out to sea and swing back to Fowey in a big arc which would take us a couple of miles offshore and hopefully……

Not long after we passed Udder Rock Buoy, which was clanging mournfully, Jane did very well to spot the slight splash of a fin just breaking the surface. Not easy in the slightly choppy conditions. We followed and observed three dolphins, one clearly a youngster, which were in no mood to hang around and be sociable and rapidly sped off. I’m not even sure what species they were. Fantastic nonetheless.

As we ‘took luncheon’ and I forced down my rolls which by now were even harder, the wind dropped further and the stage was set.

A distant splash of something the size of a dolphin

The splashes started shortly afterwards. Dotted about all over the place and not particularly close to us, but Jeremy was looking in exactly the right direction when a Tuna the size of a dolphin jumped clean out of the water.  The intensity of activity seemed to build, along with our excitement.

My camera was poised and I took an awful lot of shots of empty sea where a splash had just occurred.

We powered towards a more sustained burst of activity at the surface with great big fish partly showing themselves , and I snapped away. Then all would go quiet and we would hear a great swoosh behind us and turn round to see a patch of smooth water where some huge creature had just broken the surface.

We continued to zigzag around and charge towards where we thought the action would take place. A gang of gulls came to our observational aid and circled over the school of Tuna to mark the spot. When they suddenly dipped down to the surface I rattled away with my camera and the Giant Tuna burst out, but I really wasn’t sure if the camera was pointing in the right direction, or zoomed in too far, or images blurred with the rocking of the kayak.IMG_2502



That’s the image I was after!

Jeremy and Jane had the thrill of seeing a load of baitfish, which they reckoned were Mackerel, bursting from the surface with the Tuna exploding out in pursuit. Wow.

After in excess of fifty big splashes and seeing a score of Giant Tuna, Jeremy and Jane headed for home but I just could not drag myself away. I had no idea whether I had got my photo of a Tuna, or a bit of one, because I didn’t want to waste time reviewing my pics.

But after they departed it all went quiet. However the remarkable day was rounded off in a perfect manner, in the bright sunshine and blue sea, by a cameo appearance of one of my favourite seabirds, a Great Skua aka ‘Bonxie’.

The group of gulls which had settled on the surface to digest their tuna-meal leftovers suddenly spooked as the skua scythed into their post-prandial get-together. The skua chased one gull with typical aggression and surprising agility and then dropped down to settle on the sea.

Bonxie harrying Gull

I sneaked up to it, making sure the sun was behind me. To my amazement I drifted to within a few feet of it with it apparently unconcerned (if anything it looked like it was eyeing me up for a meal). I have done this before at the Bonxie’s breeding grounds in Scotland but never seen one closer than hundreds of yards from my kayak in south-west England.IMG_2717

Great Skua, Fowey

I had a clear view right down its larynx as it yawned before continuing on its way on migration.IMG_2702_01

What an incredible day. Unbelievable. Even better when reviewing my pics revealed a single frame of a Giant Bluefin Tuna clean out of the water.

Giant Bluefin Tuna, Fowey, Cornwall

Not in the tropical Pacific, but in the English Channel. Not from a multimillion pound state-of-the-art research vessel, but from a couple of little plastic kayaks. Not using a helicopter to spot the fish, but Jane and Jeremy. And fuelled not by fossil fuel, but by a couple of stale rolls from Tesco.




Dolphins, Porpoises and GIANT TUNA!

Just when I thought the offshore paddling season was coming to a close and I was going to be forced back into more sheltered waters by the autumnal weather, up pops a completely still day.

My destination had to be Fowey.  Although heading further west to Falmouth or Mounts Bay would increase the chances of a big cetacean encounter, I really couldn’t be bothered to drive that far having clocked up seven hundred miles over the weekend.


Fowey ticks all the right boxes for the perfect day’s sea kayaking. A superb and busy launch site at the slipway in the Caffa Mill carpark, a great super-sheltered paddle out past the town with the tide running in your direction (hopefully) to get your muscles warmed up, and then out into the wide open sea. A vista bounded by Dodman Point to the southwest and Rame head to the east, although it was so clear today I could just see the South Hams as well.

The only drawback is the savage carpark charges which always grind with me.

I hadn’t really made up my mind where I was going so turned southeast once I was out of the harbour and paddled directly into the bright low sun,  heading offshore. A single gull which was circling ‘with intent’ attracted my attention and I could hardly believe my eyeballs when I saw a load of fins appear beneath it. I was less than half-a-mile from the shore and was yet to get ‘in the zone’.

I diverted towards the group of dolphins and moved up a couple of gears but had a bit of a struggle closing the gap as they were cruising along at 4-5 mph. I was careful not to go too close because I could see at least one juvenile in the group but as usual they came over to me for a bit of a look. Not quite as interested as my previous few encounters but a thrill nonetheless, enhanced by the flat calm water and blue sea under cloudless sky.

The biggest dolphin slapped the water with its tail every time it surfaced. I’m not sure whether this was a ‘warning’ thing because I was there, or whether it was just a sort of habit. It certainly acted, and looked like, group leader.

Dolphin doing tail-slappy thing

Being Common Dolphins they were extremely active and did an awful lot of splashing and I was very keen to get that much sought after image, which I have yet to achieve, of one completely out of the water. As usual I failed, but only just. Somehow my camera wasn’t pointing in quite the right place! Aaargh.

Very nearly a fab photo

To complicate matters my memory card became full up and the dolphins sped away as I was fiddling with my camera trying to decide what to delete. How often have I moaned at people staring at a screen while missing the wonders of the real world, and now I was prime offender number one.IMG_2393


Common Dolphin

Fired up by this encounter and the sea state which seemed to have become even more smooth, I paddled further out. It was a very rare day where there was so lttle movement of the kayak that binoculars could be used, and through them I could see a lot more diffuse gull activity another mile or so ahead. I piled on the steam and glimpsed something the size of a dolphin jump clear off the water directly ahead, but then nothing more. Mmmm, I would have expected to see a dolphin surfacing for a breath.

A little further one I came upon a sedately cruising group of about eight Porpoises which were rolling at the surface in their unobtrusive and quiet manner, drawing attention to themselves with their surprisingly loud ‘piff’. In contrast to Common Dolphins they don’t very often splash, although I have seen them get fired up on occasion.

Harbour Porpoise

Excellent, the day had already way exceeded my expectations.

I munched lunch ( endured one jam and one peanut butter sandwich so I could luxuriate in a heavenly slab of coffee cake) about five miles offshore, sporadically entertained by Guillemots, Gannets and a couple of compact flocks of Common Scoter flying past. Also one Dunlin which I would have probably thought was something more rare had it not uttered its characteristic ‘dzeep’ call.

Lunch break in a marine wilderness, five miles from shore.

Shortly after I swung back towards Fowey for the return leg I saw a big splash several hundred yards ahead directly in front of me. Moments later two dolphin-sized creatures leapt out of the water and re-entered the water in a great splash. But hang on…they  weren’t dolphins. I sped towards the scene but saw absolutely nothing more. No fins and nothing coming up for a breath. It was so flat calm I would have seen or heard any dolphin if it came up within half-a-mile.

It was only a split second view but I’m virtually certain these were Giant Tuna. I am aware that they are now regularly seen in the Autumn around Falmouth Bay, and am pretty sure I saw some there last year, but once again it was a frustratingly brief glimpse.

I also think that this is what I had seen jumping an hour previously.

I hung around waiting for a repeat performance but had no joy.

However as a consolation I was treated to yet another Common Dolphin encounter on the way back in. This group of about eight were a bit more sociable than the earlier pod and surged all around me and went for a bit of bow-riding when I paddled  flat out.

Common Dolphin Escort

The biggest problem of today, apart from the car park charge, was thermoregulation. As I set off it was only a couple of degrees above freezing so was layered up inside full drysuit gear. However the absolute lack of wind combined with bright sunshine and several cetacean-watching sprints tested my thermostat to the limit. Lightly poached would be an understatement.