Cornwall – Wildlife

Atlantic Edge – ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Whilst the TV can bring the world’s wildlife to our living room, it is far more reassuring and spirit lifting to rub shoulders with amazing wildlife in your home country. Cornwall has more than its fair share of unspoilt nature as it sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean; the maritime weather systems carry virtually no pollution;  the warm Gulf Stream brings us unusual sea creatures from as far as the Caribbean and the plankton upwelling along the Continental Shelf to the West of the Scillies and Northern Spain creates one of the richest marine fisheries in the world. To see a common dolphin playing in your boats bow wave might be a cliche in a brochure, but we defy you not to rush to the bow to take a closer look. 

Sometimes it takes an outdoor holiday (and a company dedicated to raising awareness of marine wildlife)  to that remind you how precious the natural environment on our doorstep really is. Our guests are often captivated by quite common wildife encounters:- The sound of owls hunting in the woods at night when you anchor up the River Fal, gannets dive bombing after a gale or a sea of purple jelly fish drifting past. How many people know that Cornwall has 30ft plankton feeding basking sharks all year, sunfish even when its cloudy and baby seals hiding in sea caves ? 

Cornish basking shark coming towards you
Photo by Will Wagstaff. Cornish basking shark coming towards you

Wildlife at Sea & Ashore

The remoteness of the Cornish coast this far west bring their own special reward to those who travel with us: Starry nights with no street lights; ocean sunsets, isolated lighthouses and tiny fishing harbours; cliffs sculptured by pounding winter gales; almost tropical white sands with sparkling mica sticking to your toes; woodlands stunted by the wind but with trees adorned with lichen (a sure sign of unpolluted air) and lush ferns and springs along the many coastal footpaths.

The Gulf Stream provides unexpected sightings of turtles, sunfish and more regular visits by dolphins (common, bottlenose and risso’s dolphin), porpoises, whales and giant basking sharks. Gales often bring in wheeling gannets, tiny storm petrels, guillemots, razorbills and even puffins.

The Fal and Helford Estuaries are designated as Special Areas of Marine Interest. Breeding seals hide in sea caves and deep zawns. The drowned river valleys (called rias) have dense oak woodlands with branches sweeping down to deep green waters. At low tide the mudflats are home to egrets, curlews, oystercatchers and leggy herons—all the birds that go screech. At night you hear owls hooting in the moonlight, and a few guests have seen elusive otters in the early morning mists.

We have some world class dive spots locally and in the Scillies due to the lack of major sediment bearing rivers, rich underwater ecosystem and wrecks, so it is well worth bringing a snorkel, mask & wetsuit in summer you have mermaid (or merman) tendencies. Many of our anchorages are near interesting rock pools or eel grass, or maerl beds where seahorses hide.

Best Times of Year: Wildlife Spotting: Increase your Chances

  • Late May – Early June is good for basking sharks and phosphoresence in the water at night.
  • Mid summer – Sunfish, and seals are breeding in sea caves
  • Late summer – the recently born western grey seals come out to play
  • Autumn gales good for ocean seabirds like Gannets and storm petrels
  • Bottlenosed and Common dolphins – any time of year.


More Stories

Sail on Tall Ship with Classic Sailing

25/10 Announcing New Voyages

Sail Scotland 2023

Explore Scotland’s wilderness and wildlife on a traditional sailing adventure! Join a traditional sailing vessel, no sailing experience required. Our skilled skippers will guide

Read More
faroe islands with classic sailing

12/02 Inspiration

Getting ready for a big adventure.

How to Prepare for a Long Voyage.  Getting ready for a big adventure is a lengthy process and we hope this article helps you

Read More

26/05 Top Voyages For...

Classic Sailing’s Top 5 Voyages for Photographers

The Classic Sailing Team’s top 5 choices for sailors who love to snap! Whether it’s for the ‘Gram, the family photo album or your

Read More
The late author and Explorer Kit Mayers with a globe. You can buy his book to help raise funds for Greenpeace.

20/04 Inspiration

‘The First English Explorer’… and a much more recent one

My grandfather, Kit Mayers, was a big influence on me. His stubborn adventurousness, stoicism and passion for the world was inspirational.

Read More
Trade Winds by Chris de Beukelaer

08/04 Educational

“Trade Winds” by Christiaan de Beukelaer

Adam here.Let me tell you about the book “Trade Winds” by Christiaan de Beukelaer. This book is a fascinating voyage through the difficult waters

Read More