General Advice


Cetacean watching tips

There are five cetacean species commonly found in the Irish Sea: Common dolphin, Bottlenose dolphin, Harbour porpoise, Risso’s dolphin and Minke whales. Below are some tips to help you spot them!

Sea Trust Wales Whale Tail yellow

Scanning for cetaceans

Scan the water back and forth, you can do this with or without binoculars.

You are looking for a flash of movement and a colour different from the surrounding water.

If you think you might have seen something, keep looking at that area. Cetaceans can dive for long periods.

Splashes on a calm day can be a clue to a cetacean’s presence

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Weather influences what you can see

Wind with large waves makes it harder to spot cetaceans.

Best days to survey are on calm days with low wind and a relatively flat sea.

Sea Trust Wales Birds at Sea yellow

Other Species

Birds, particularly gannets and gulls, are a useful clue as well.

Gannets circle around feeding areas, and often use cetaceans to location fish below.

Lots of diving birds can mean that fish have been pushed close to the surface by predators (i.e. possibly cetaceans) below.

Sea Trust Wales Watching Cetaceans

Where to see cetaceans

You don’t have to be at sea to see a cetacean! Viewing from land is a low-disturbance way to view porpoise, whales and dolphins. There are lots of locations around the coast in Pembrokeshire and beyond where you can spot a cetacean.

Below are some locations with a few of the species commonly found there – but remember these are wild animals so the lists below should be taken as useful tips rather than a guarantee of a particular species in any location.

Strumble Head

harbour porpoise common dolphin risso’s dolphin minke whale grey seals sunfish leatherback turtles and more!

Ramsey Sound

harbour porpoise
grey seals


famous for it’s resident bottlenose dolphins

Fishguard Bay

bottlenose dolphins (summer) common dolphins (year-round) harbour porpoise (year-round)

Cetacean watching – General Advice

Spotting dolphins, whales and porpoises at sea can be an exciting experience but it is important to understand that our behaviour towards these animals, although it may seem harmless, can be a very distressing experience for them.

All species of cetaceans in UK waters are protected by law. It is illegal to capture, injure, kill or intentionally or recklessly disturb a cetacean.

We do not wish to restrict your enjoyment of these animals, we just ask that you are mindful of your actions whilst you are out at sea. The less we disturb these animals as they visit harbours and areas with high human activity the more likely it is they will return for us to enjoy in the future.

Advice for boat users

Boat users, both professional and recreational, can avoid breaking the law by adhering to the following advice and local marine codes.

Keep your distance. Remain 100m away (200m if another boat is in the area).

Never drive head on to, or move between, scatter or separate dolphins. If unsure of their movements, simply stop and put the engine into neutral.

Never chase, drive directly towards or encircle them. Always allow an escape route.

Let them approach you. On many occasions dolphins will bow-ride your boat, make sure you maintain a steady speed and course.

Take extra special care when around young animals. The smallest disturbance risks disrupting mother-calf bonds and may expose inexperienced young to stress and possible boat strikes.

Move away slowly if you notice any signs of disturbance or avoidance behaviours.

Please remember, not only do boats pose a threat of injury to the animal from collisions or propeller strikes. The noise produced by engines can disrupt their daily behaviours including their ability to communicate with each other which is essential when navigating underwater.

Marine Codes

For more information on marine codes for cetaceans or other marine wildlife please check your local marine code. You can find many of the marine codes for Wales on the Wild Seas Wales website.

Wild Seas Wales Marine CodesPembrokeshire Marine Code

Seal Pup Advice

Grey seal pups are born in late August and September around the Pembrokeshire coast.

Grey Seal Pup

Picture 1: Healthy seal pup with white fur
© Ken Barnett

What do you do if you come across a seal pup on a beach?

  • Just because a seal pup is alone and crying does not necessarily mean it’s in danger or been abandoned. Most of the time the seal pup will be fine. It is normal for the mother to leave a pup on its own for a short period.
  • Please DO NOT approach the seal pup, keep far away and keep dogs on a lead.
    • If you get too close to a seal pup this could scare the mother away and lead to the pup being abandoned.
    • Seals may look cute but they give a nasty bite which will get infected with bacteria from their mouths. This has led to people being hospitalised.

For the first three weeks of a seal’s life they are covered in white downy fur and are not ready to swim. DO NOT attempt to get them back in the water.

They begin to moult after 3 weeks of age and they look at bit patchy.

Malnourished seal pup

Picture 2: Malnourished seal pup at Fishguard Lifeboat Station
© Anna Elliott

How to decide whether the seal pup needs help?

  • If the seal is injured
  • If you have observed the pup for 24 hours and there has been no sign of the mother.
  • A healthy pup will look big and fat without a neck whereas a malnourished pup will look thin and will have a visible neck
  • If a seal pup has fully moulted and seems very small and lethargic it may be malnourished.

Seal Pup Rescue

DO NOT attempt to rescue a seal pup by yourself. Leave this to well-trained experts. If you think a seal pup in Pembrokeshire needs help call Welsh Marine Life Rescue (Terry Leadbetter) on 01646 692943, 07970 285086. For areas outside of Pembrokeshire call British Divers Marine Rescue on 01825 765546.