It is maybe not surprising that Mount’s Bay is such a good place for looking for porpoises, dolphins….and whales…from my kayak. They are ocean wanderers that generally prefer to be far out to sea, and Cornwall is the last bit of land to stick out into the Atlantic where they live. Marine creatures on migration from north to south (or vice versa) may also drop by for a refuel because the confused currents, reefs and upwellings around Land’s End are rich in fish.
It is also a great location for kayaking because the Land’s End peninsular provides protection from Atlantic swell, and there are a lot of sheltered, and super-scenic locations to get on the water. All under the gaze of amazing St.Michaels’ Mount.
Also if the weather is not conducive to offshore paddling, the coast is exceptionally interesting and varied in terms of scenery and human habitation, and the near-shore holds a lot of seabirds during the winter. Most impressive of which are the Loons ( the North American name, aka Great Northern Diver in the UK), this one is in transition from summer to winter plumage. It also has a slightly wonky beak with the end crossing over.
There are plenty of Guillemots and Razorbills:
And Eddie the resident Eider duck is usually in evidence somewhere around Penzance harbour, sometimes with some friends, sometimes not.
After a long, long period of stormy weather, the sea has at last settled down and I have ventured out into Mount’s Bay on a couple of occasions in the last week. Both trips in excess of fifteen miles and keeping well offshore.
During the second trip I came across two large pods of Harbour Porpoises between St.Michael’s Mount and Mousehole. Porpoises usually go around singly or twos and threes, but these two pods contained in excess of ten each. You can hear why they used to be called ‘Puffing Pigs’ by Newfoundland fishermen. (in England they were known as ‘Herring Hogs’). Unfortunately you can also hear my drysuit creaking as I pan round.
One porpoise halted at the surface to enjoy the calm conditions and maybe a little bit of warm winter sun. They don’t do this very often, probably because the sea isn’t this smooth very often.
Any sort of bird activity which is focused on the surface of the sea attracts my interest when I am offshore paddling. I have mentioned before that more often than not there is a porpoise beneath a circling Gannet, but on this occasion it was a large milling group of gulls that kept dipping down to the surface that lured me over for a closer inspection. They were scattered over a wide area with several Kittiwakes amongst them. When a couple of Gannets arrived and dived I increased pace because I was sure there would be ‘fins’ about.
Sure enough a couple of dolphins splashed in front of me.
I approached the group cautiously to avoid spooking them, but they were in a very sociable mood and came over to see what as going on.
As I cruised on they were quite happy to act as an escort.
As usual there were a handful of juveniles mixed in amongst the pod, and as usual they stuck like glue to their mother’s side.
On the second day the dolphin watching was even better because the surface was oily smooth, enabling the dolphins to get as good a look at me as I was getting of them.
This is a big thrill, and the excitement of this sort of encounter never seems to diminish. There cannot be many situations where a couple of completely wild creatures of this size (seven foot long) voluntarily come within touching distance of a human being. And for me it is all the more compelling because getting several miles offshore, and locating a pod of dolphins, is really quite a challenge.
This particular group seemed quite happy to hang around as I just floated and watched, so I got out the Gopro for some underwater action. I love this (very brief) clip as this dolphin glides by on its side.
Although the water isn’t as clear as it is in the summer, the dolphins came so close I was able to get the best underwater shots I have yet achieved.
This individual takes a good look at the Gopro as it cruises past. A proper dolphin mugshot.
Absolutely excellent, and the fact that it is December makes the whole experience even more remarkable.
I had a good lesson in how to push things too far (or not) on my way back to Marazion. Before the two hour paddle back to my launch site, I could just make out a group of Gannets circling and diving far out to sea. Of course I couldn’t resist heading out to take a look, but half an hour of paddling and nearly two miles later I still hadn’t arrived upon the scene.
Then, contrary to the forecast which had predicted flat calm all day, a steady north wind picked up. Probably only 10mph but it made the paddle back very long indeed, with a relentless cold breeze in my face and waves slapping over the front slowing me down considerably. The feeding frenzy turned out to be disappointing too, just a couple of distant dolphins and no sign of anything larger (which of course I always hope for).
I arrived back at Marazion, after seven hours on the water and 17.5 miles paddled, fairly pooped. But worth it, with over twenty dolphins and thirty porpoises to enjoy.