There are so many great things about Stand Up Paddleboarding, there’s really nothing like exploring new places from a totally different perspective.
Firstly, you have a clear vantage point to find access to places you can’t even see from the shore. Secondly, as a ‘silent’ and relatively calm watersport, paddleboarding is an ideal way to get a little bit closer to the diverse wildlife we share our coastlines and waterways with.
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned pro, finding seals out with you on the water has got to be up there with one of the coolest things that can happen when paddleboarding! These normally elusive mammals are frequently put off by the noise of boats, so paddling means you might just stand a chance of spotting one or two…
What are the different types of seals I can spot in the UK?
There are two types of seals that are frequently spotted around the UK, the common harbour seal and the Atlantic grey. The common seal is smaller than the grey. You can normally identify them by their distinctive ‘banana’ shape when resting, with both head and tail up in the air! The grey seal generally has a longer snout and prefers to live among more exposed, rocky coastlines. You can see both all year round in UK waters.
Of course, by now you’re wondering where on earth you can experience a sighting, so we’ve put together a list of the best places to go SUPing and seal spotting around the UK. Just as a disclaimer, we obviously can’t guarantee sightings at any of these places, but if you play your cards right, we reckon you stand a pretty good chance. One word of advice before we start – make sure you always keep your distance! As curious as these doe-eyed creatures are, they are also easily spooked, especially during pupping season, but more on that later…
Cornwall has over 1000km of coastline, where it’s not only possible to see seals but dolphins, porpoises and even basking sharks. The western tip of Cornwall from Hayle through Land’s End and around to Cudden Point are probably the best places to spot seals but you could also try the area around Falmouth. Both the grey seal and common seal call Cornwall home and tend to stick around all year, with the latter not straying too far from where they were born. Needless to say, Cornwall offers amazing variety for paddleboarding. Depending on the season and tide, you may want to travel around to find the more sheltered spots for SUP. The coves around Carbis Bay, St Ives and Hayle offer protection against the biggest swells and the area around Prussia Cove on the southern coast is another favoured spot for SUPing and seal watching. It’s popular for its long stretch of sandy beaches and nearby amenities.
The west coast of Wales is a haven for Atlantic grey seals. It’s thought that Pembrokeshire is home to around 5,000 of them! It’s a stunning part of the country for SUP with the mountain backdrop of the Preseli hills to keep you company as you navigate its many estuaries, rivers and beaches. The coastal tip around St David’s is popular for seal spotting and has plenty of secluded beaches and coves to explore. Whitesands Bay is a good option for SUPing on a wider beach and there is ample parking. The north end of the bay is popular with surfers and bodyboarders while the southern end is quieter and more sheltered. Avoid paddling past the headland at St David’s Head which is exposed to strong winds and currents. Ramsey Island is also notorious for its riptides, so you’ll want to avoid this area unless you’re an experienced paddler – check to make sure there’s no swell forecast.
Having so many waterways as well as beautiful beaches make Norfolk a firm favourite for SUP. The flat beaches and shallow waters at Horsey are an ideal place to SUP and you might just spot an Atlantic grey seal colony that use the beach for pupping. It’s worth noting that Horsey beach is closed to the public during pupping season, which is normally October to February, although you can still view them from the dunes.
Brancaster beach is another superb spot in the summer months to see seals playing and foraging in the sea and there are lots of salt marshes and creeks nearby which are just perfect for exploring by SUP.
The best place to see seals in Northumberland is offshore, around Farne Island and Holy Island, where the greys lay on the rocks to rest. In Autumn, the female seals come ashore to have their pups. Conditions around these islands can be a little unpredictable, so it’s worth taking an experienced SUPer with local knowledge with you if you’re not confident. Lindesfarne is another great place for seal spotting, or try the stretch from Seahouses to Bamburgh Castle, where conditions are a little more accessible. You might even see a few dolphins too!
Did you know nearly 30% of Europe’s seal population live on the Scottish coast? The Inner and Outer Hebrides offer some heartstopping scenery and opportunities for SUP. While harbour seals can be found on most of the Inner Hebrides, grey seals tend to favour the more exposed Outer islands to forage for food. You can find both on the Isle of Harris, in addition to the beautiful Luskentyre beach, which on a sunny day can look more like the Caribbean than the Outer Hebrides with its majestic blue waters and lush mountain backdrop. It’s no wonder this beach is regularly voted one of the best in the world! The area is sheltered but it’s worth keeping your wits about you, as wind direction and conditions can change quickly. Barra is another good option for paddleboarding and potential seal spotting, and it’s good to know there are several SUP schools in the area if you need any assistance.
What can I do to make sure I don’t disturb seals when paddleboarding?
Seals are highly intelligent, naturally inquisitive and can be extremely playful in the water. Some might even want to get a closer look of your paddleboard! However, it’s important to remember that these are wild creatures and their behaviour can be unpredictable.
During pupping season, seals can be especially sensitive, with mothers abandoning pups if they feel threatened, so keep your distance if you stumble across a colony on the shore. Here are some simple tips to keep you and the seals safe:
Be aware that Autumn is the time for seal pupping. You’ll often find colonies of seals on dry land, and this is when they’re most vulnerable. It’s not uncommon for seals to become aggressive if they feel threatened.
Make sure that you stay in control of your board and any additional passengers, especially dogs, as they can cause unnecessary stress to seals.
Try to stay downwind if possible so they can’t smell you.
Keep your distance (around 100m away) and don’t stay any longer than 15 minutes at a time. They might be waiting for you to move on before continuing with their business.
Signal to others if you see any risky behaviour from seals and move away calmly and slowly.
If a seal does try to approach you and get on your board, stay calm and let it happen. It should move off on its own again pretty quickly, providing you don’t engage with them.
So there you have it, a little bit of inspiration for places to combine your love of paddleboarding with seal spotting! Let us know in the comments below if you’ve seen seals in any of these locations or if you have any personal tips or recommendations you’d like to share with the community.