It’s official! Isles of Scilly Travel are the UK’s best ferry route for wildlife spotting for the 2nd year in a row

Marine animals taken from Scillonian III

For the second year in a row, the Scillonian III crossing between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly has been named the UK’s highest diversity ferry route for wildlife spotting by charity ORCA.

A total of 645 individual animals were spotted by volunteers from the decks of the passenger ferry – with common dolphins recorded on almost every survey.

It comes as ORCA, which is dedicated to studying and protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises in UK waters, completed another season of vital cetacean monitoring surveys on board Scillonian III, owned and operated by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group.

Sharon Sandercock, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Group, said: “Our passengers often tell us their journey on Scillonian III is a huge part of the whole island experience and it’s easy to see why.

“Not only are the views of the Cornish coastline incredible, but the opportunities for spotting wildlife are second to none and make for a truly memorable journey.”

ORCA’s highly-trained marine mammal surveyors conducted 13 surveys from Scillonian III between March and November 2023.

There were a total of 645 individual animals seen – 234 more than in 2022 – including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and fish.

Common dolphins were the species recorded most frequently, on almost every survey, with 495 animals seen throughout the year.

And four times as many Risso’s dolphins were seen this year compared to last year, which may be due to their prey, cephalopods, being more abundant in the area.

The highlights of the year included a feeding frenzy of common dolphins and a breaching tuna, as well as a large pod of common dolphins playing in the bow wave of Scillonian III – a sight enjoyed by the ORCA survey team, crew and passengers.

The surveys were conducted by 39 ORCA volunteer marine mammal surveyors, many of whom are from the local area, who travelled a distance of 1,600km while surveying.

More than 5,000 individual animals have been recorded since the surveys started in 2009, with 16 different species seen. These include killer whales, humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, basking sharks, seals, tuna and leatherback turtles.

The charity tries to replicate the same survey dates each year to ensure the data is comparable and now has a highly valuable dataset collected onboard.

Lucy Babey, ORCA’s Head of Science and Conservation, said: “2023 has shown once again why the surveys we do in this part of the world are amongst the most diverse in all of the regions where we collect data on whales, dolphins and porpoises.

“We are so proud to work with the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, placing our incredible volunteer marine mammal surveyors on board to monitor the amazing animals that we see on the crossing between Penzance and St Mary‘s, and we can’t wait to see more wonderful whales in 2024 and beyond.


Total tally of species sighted:

  • Harbour porpoise: 57 animals
  • Common dolphin: 495 animals
  • Bottlenose dolphin: 8 animals
  • Risso’s dolphin: 22 animals
  • Unidentified dolphin: 38 animals
  • Minke whale: 5 animals
  • Grey seal: 6 animals
  • Unidentified seals: 2 animals
  • Tuna: 12 animals
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