Marine Life

A common dolphin by Paul Hadgett.

Image: A common dolphin and calf off Pembrokeshire by the Sea Trust Wales.

For a small country, Wales has an abundance of coastline which attracts a wide variety of marine life due to our proximity to the Gulf Stream.

Here's a guide to some of the more common species you might encounter while surfing off the coast of Wales.


Weaver fish are small fish which most surfers and beach goers are happy to avoid.

As seas around Wales warm up each summer - weaver fish move out of the deeper water and into the shallows where they encounter human feet.

These small fish, around 15 cm in length have venomous spines along their dorsal fin which deliver a painful sting if stepped on.

They are incredibly well camouflaged and bury themselves in the sand so the only way to guarantee avoiding them is to wear wetsuit boots.

If you are stung - immerse the affected limb in hot water (as hot as you can stand) for around 15 minutes to deactivate the venom. Simple painkillers such as paracetamol will also help to relieve the pain.

From one of the smallest to one of the largest now - the basking shark is the second largest fish in the world after the whale shark.

During the summer months, these gentle giants occasionally appear off the Pembrokeshire coast feeding on plankton. Devon, Cornwall and Ireland are other surfing hot spots where you'll find them.

They're notoriously difficult to track and can appear or disappear at a moments notice if spooked, so always give them plenty of space.

The first thing you'll see is their enormous dorsal fin poking out of the water along with a 'crescent-moon' shaped tail.

Reaching up to 12.3 metres in length, these enormous fish can filter approximately 1,482,000 litres of water in just one hour!


Nothing can ever prepare you for your first surfing encounter with a seal - a mixture of fear and delight, as these curious creatures will often swim incredibly close to you when surfing.

In Wales we're lucky enough to have both common/ harbour and grey seals. Grey seals tend be seen more often by surfers as they frequent rocky shores, coastal reefs and coves where surfers like to surf.

Grey seals appear to be black when wet and, as a result, can be quite easily spotted when they surface.

They're a bit more brutish looking than common seals with have a pronounced forehead and nose and a large bull seal stalking you from ten feet away can be quite intimidating.

Common seals in comparison have an almost puppy like, more rounded face and are smaller than greys with distinctive v-shaped nostrils.

Pembrokeshire has a 5,000 strong colony of these beautiful creatures and Skomer Island has the second largest colony on the west coast.


One thing always guaranteed to grab a surfers attention is the word shark! There are nearly 30 species of shark found in UK waters ranging from dogfish to porbeagles, but they pose no threat to surfers in Wales.

Sharks are greatly misunderstood creatures - portrayed as mindless killers when nothing could be further from the truth.

The blue shark is a nomadic hunter, travelling thousands of miles each year in a clockwise direction around the Atlantic using the Gulf Steam currents which bring them to Wales each summer.

Blue sharks are stunning to look at with a slender body and bright indigo blue body and white underside.

Iolo Williams encountered them off Skomer Island in 2007 when he joined up with WWF Cymru on a shark tagging programme.

Another shark species you might be fortunate enough to see surfing off Gower is the thresher shark - now listed as 'vulnerable' due to over fishing for its highly prized meat.

These distinctive sharks a have a huge, curved fin tail that can grow as long as their actual body and is used to whip and stun fish with.

In the past thresher sharks have been spotted swimming off the Gower coast and past Mumbles lighthouse.

The closest relative to the great white shark - the porbeagle shark also visits Welsh waters from time to time, but is encountered more by fisherman than surfers.

A 45 kg porbeagle shark was caught by mackerel fishermen off the coast of Aberystwyth in November 2009.

Dolphins & porpoises

Bottlenose dolphins can be found all over the UK but the Cardigan Bay population is very special as it is home to one of only two resident populations in the entire British Isles.

The colony can often be spotted between Aberarth, Ceregidion in the North and Ceibwr Bay, Pembrokeshire in the South.

Dolphins also enjoy surfing - both ocean waves and bow waves caused by boats. I've been lucky enough to have surfed with dolphins many times in Australia and it's an experience you never tire off, especially when they leap up out of the wave, you're sharing.

You'll never forget a surfing encounter with a dolphin.

We also have an abundance of short-beaked common dolphins throughout Wales and these sociable creatures will often travel together in large 'super pods'.

These dolphins are light grey in colour with a low, tapering forehead and are often seen breaching the surface of the sea and surfing the bow waves on boats.

In July 2009, the Sea Trust charity filmed a super pod off the Pembrokeshire coast which contained more than 1,500 dolphins.

Risso's dolphin are also found in Wales and prefer our temperate waters during the summer months - from May through to September.

They have a blunt, rounded head with slight melon and no beak and are dark grey/ black in colour and often covered in scratches and scars.

Read about whales, turtles and jellyfish in the next article.

Article written by Martin Aaron

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