The Sussex coastline is one of the most poorly studied cetacean habitats (Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises) in England. Yet recently, we have been getting more and more sightings reported to us. Through our citizen science research project, we aim to:
Study marine mammals found along the Sussex coastline by documenting sightings and collecting images to identify individuals.
Work with local communities to improve awareness about the local of marine ecosystems.
Understand the impact we have on the marine environment, particularly plastic pollution.
Whilst Dolphins are not spotted daily off the Sussex Coast, the areas you are most likely to see dolphins include:
We Believe in Citizen Science
Sussex is one of the most poorly studied areas for marine mammals, yet recently we have been receiving more and more sightings of these incredible animals sent to us. However, we are beginning to learn more about these animals, and it is because of citizen science. It is an exciting time for science and research; never before has it been so accessible to to the public.
Volunteers are at the heart the Project’s research programmes. We encourage members of the public to send in their sightings of marine mammals, including photos and videos, so that people across the Sussex are collecting the information needed to understand the marine environment. The project is investigating opportunities for us to train people who use the seas of Sussex for commercial and leisurely purposes to identify marine mammals, and collect data that will allow us to develop conservation initiatives for these incredible animals.
There are the species of marine mammals (dolphins and seals) that we are collecting sightings on as part of our research programme.
Adults can grow to 1.9-3.9m long. They have a large grey body, a pale grey or pinkish belly and a tall sickle shaped dorsal fin. Bottlenose Dolphins are commonly seen in groups of 2-15 individuals, however large groups and single dolphins are not uncommon. These animals are playful and curious, and are often seen bow riding the waves of boats and leaping clear out of the water.
Common dolphins have a characteristic figure of 8 pattern on their flanks which is tawny/yellow, brown, grey and black. They have a white belly and a sickle shaped dorsal fin. They are between 1.7-2.5m long. Common dolphins are a highly active species. They are fast swimmers and regularly ride the bow waves of boats.
A large, sturdy dolphin that can grow to 3m in length. They have distinctive pale grey-white flashes along the flanks and a pale grey patch behind the dorsal fin known as a saddle patch. They have a dark grey back, tail and pectoral fins. Their dorsal fin is tall, and sickle shaped and their beak is usually although not always pale grey or white. White-beaked dolphins are fast swimmers, acrobatic and they often ride the bow waves of boats. They are most often spotted in groups of between 5-20 individuals but can form larger groups.
Harbour Porpoises can grow to between 1.4 to 1.9m in length. They have a stocky body, a small rounded head that lacks a beak and a triangular dorsal fin that has a blunt tip. The body is a dark grey which lightens on the flanks and their underside to light grey or white. They are most often seen in groups of 2-5 individuals, however they are also sighted alone. Harbour porpoises are known to be elusive and will rarely approach boats. Harbour Porpoises generally travel quite slowly and tend to be sighted in relatively inshore waters and coastal regions.
Harbour (or Common) Seals are commonly seen off the Sussex coastline. They can grow to between 1m-1.8m. The most distinguishing feature is that they have cat-like facial features. Their colouration ranges from light tan to brown, and with some darker speckles on their body. Harbour seals are mainly found in the coastal waters of the continental shelf and slope, and also commonly found in bays, rivers, estuaries and intertidal areas.
Grey Seals are less commonly seen off the Sussex coastline, but are still often sighted. The larger of the 2 species of seals found in the UK, they can grow to between 1.6m-2.8m. What distinguishes them from Harbour Seals is that they have dog-like facial features, and a straight nose. Their colouration ranges from light grey to dark grey, with darker speckles on their body. Grey Seals are often found on rocky shores, and can form large colonies on sand dunes.
Dolphins and porpoises display a range of interesting and exciting behaviours:
Bow riding: Dolphins often swim in the pressure wave formed ahead of boats which are pushing through the water.
Slow travel: Dolphins maintain a steady speed by only raising the upper parts of their body as they surface.
Porpoising or running: Dolphins can travel at a high speed by leaping clear of the water.
Chorus lines: Pods of dolphins often change direction as a unit and can swim in a line formation.
Remember: Dolphins, Porpoises, and Seals are wild animals. If you are lucky enough to encounter them at sea, keep your distance and be respectful.
Report your Sightings
If you happen to see any Dolphins or Seals, please fill our contact form on the front page of our website, or report it via social media. The information we’d like to receive is:
Species (Dolphin, Porpoise, or Seal)
Number of animals
Location (Coordinates or nearest landmark)
If there were any juveniles present.
Behaviour of the animals (swimming, jumping, interacting with boats, feeding, resting)
Time and date
Please do also share any photos and videos you have as well. All of this data will be added to our Public Sightings Database, so we can develop a better understanding of these charismatic animals in Sussex, as well as finding out more potential populations of Dolphins, Porpoises and Seals in the area.
If you would like to share your sightings with us, fill in the contact form below and address your message to Thea, our Research & Sightings Coordinator.
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