Somerset coastline 'important' for porpoise mothers and calves

By Ian Fergusson
Weather presenter, BBC Points West

image copyrightBrian Gibbs
image captionA mother and calf harbour porpoise pair spotted off Hurlstone Point, Somerset

A survey of large marine animals in the Bristol Channel has identified a popular location where porpoises give birth and nurture their calves.

Hurlstone Point, near Porlock, Somerset was a focus for frequent sightings of harbour porpoises during 2020.

Volunteers for the annual Somerset and Exmoor Sea Watch survey recorded 10 mother and calf pairs over the summer.

The report said trained observers were able to gather "a wealth of data" despite Covid restrictions.

image copyrightDave Roberts
image captionThis ocean sunfish - a wide-ranging species across tropical and temperate seas - was spotted at Minehead

The survey is overseen by marine conservation charity the Sea Watch Foundation in partnership with Somerset Wildlife Trust.

The animals spotted comprised harbour porpoises, bottlenose and common dolphins, grey and common seals, plus two ocean sunfish, one of which was photographed in Minehead harbour.

At Hurlstone Point, against the backdrop of Exmoor, harbour porpoises were seen throughout the year.

According to the survey report, the frequency of sightings there was "noteworthy", concluding it "consistently presents as an important area for harbour porpoise".

The report added that the number of pairs spotted suggests it is "of special importance as a calving and nursing ground".

image copyrightAndrea Paladino
image captionLocals in Minehead have christened a seal 'Jeff'

Other noteworthy sightings from the survey included two harbour porpoises seen in the Avon Gorge at Hotwells, Bristol, in October and a young male grey seal - named Jeff by locals - that took up temporary residence on the slipway of Minehead harbour for a few days in November.

In early September 2020, the BBC was alerted to a shark sighting observed by beachgoers close inshore in the shallows at Nore Point, Portishead, North Somerset.

It was described as about four feet (1.2m) in length and probably a tope or an adult smooth-hound.

Harbour porpoises were also observed at Ladye Bay and Salthouse Bay, by the marine lake in Clevedon and from Watchet harbour.

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