We cannot guarantee sightings of any of the creatures below, but here are a few of those that Aquaholics Sea Safari have spotted on the North Coast.
Marine Mammals and Large Fish of The Causeway Coast
The basking shark is the most prolific shark in our waters. Basking sharks are filter feeders and swim just below the surface with their great mouths open. Often their nose, dorsal fin and tip of the tail will protrude from the water making identification easier. They arrive in spring to take advantage of the plankton blooms they feed upon. At an average 6-8 metres, this gentle giant might weight just over 5 tons. Whilst wintering at depths of up to 900m, females seek out shallow water in which to give birth. Basking sharks are social animals and are often seen in small groups.
The harbour seal is also known as the common seal. When hauled out on the rocks or beaches of our north coast, these seals seem immobile and ungainly. It is not until they enter the water that it is clear they are perfectly adapted for their underwater habitat. With layers of blubber to maintain body temperature, the harbour seal is able to swim within hours of birth, raised by a single parent, and quickly learns how to hunt. They are curious animals and can often been seen with their heads poking out of the water spying nearby boats. Their round heads and v-shaped nostrils distinguish them from the larger grey seal. Mottled in colour, with short flippers and body, the females are generally smaller than their male counterparts.
The dolphin is thought to be highly intelligent. It is definitely very social. Swimming in schools or family groups or up to a dozen they are often seen riding the bow wave of a boat. They feed on squid and fish, working together they corral the fish into a bait ball. With no natural predators the only threat to them in from humans.
The grey seal's latin name means 'hook-nosed sea pig' which gives some idea as to their appearance. They are less 'cute' looking and larger than their common counterparts. The profile of the grey differs also, with a large nose and broad spaced nostrils. In colouration the have patches rather than the spots of the common seal. The grey seal will eat whatever fish is available locally and have been known to eat lobster and octopus. They can dive down to 70m.
As the name implies, this small marine mammal stays close to the coast. The cool waters of UK and Ireland are perfect for this little creature. With dark grey back, lighter grey sides and white underneath, this porpoise is recognisable from the shape of its nose. Unlike the dolphin, the harbour porpoise has a blunt nose.
Mola Mola (Sunfish)
The sunfish is a large odd looking fish. Head on it appears to have a long oval face. From the side, the mola mola has a broad circular shape with small pectoral fins. The dorsal and anal fins are set far back on its body and are much larger, making the fish as tall as it is long. These fins are used for propulsion. It's diet consists primarily of jellyfish but the mola mola will eat squid, crustaceans, small fish and larvae. A relative of the pufferfish, the juvenile will resemble such a fish until it matures. An adult will grow to an average 1.8m in length while its height (fin to fin) can be 2.5m. With a lifespan of 6-8 years much of its time will be spent at great depths. It will come to the surface to sunbathe where it can be seen swimming on it's side.
Orca (Killer Whale)
The dramatically named killer whale has been sighted off the west coast of Rathlin Island. It is a beautiful creature, highly intelligent and very social. In the wild they are not considered a threat to humans, although there have been a number of highly publicised attacks in captivity. We are a much greater threat to them. With no natural predators, they are at risk due to dwindling food stocks, pollution and habitat loss. Their diverse diet matches their range, they live in all regions, from frigid to tropical waters. The iconic black and white markings of the killer whale are well recognised and spectacular to see.
Birds of The Causeway Coast
This medium-large seabird is seen all year round on the north coast. Easily identifiable by its black plumage and recognised by the small jump it does on surface of the water before duck diving and can stay down for up to minutes. Underwater they use their webbed feet for propulsion. After feeding the cormorant will often sit on rocks with wings outstretched to dry its feathers. The cormorant is a coastal bird and feeds upon small eels and fish. Nesting in colonies upon rocks, cliffs or trees they will usually have one brood per year.
Fulmars are often mistaken for gulls but are of no relation. They are in fact petrels and can be recognised in flight. They have grey and white plumage, a short bill, stubby wings and a blunt tail. They will lay a solitary egg on narrow cliff edges. Outside the breeding season they cover large distances.
These large white birds, with their black wing tips, yellow heads and long pointed bills, are perfectly designed for fishing. They cruise low over the surface of the water before gaining the height they need to fold back their wings and to shoot like arrows into the water. They are wonderfully adapted for this: with cushioning air pockets on their face and chest, no nostrils on their beaks and eyes placed so as to provide binocular vision, allowing them to judge distance accurately. This all helps when diving from heights as great as 30m at speeds of up to 100km/h. Gannets will nest on islands or cliffs, laying just one egg. In its first year, a gannet will be completely black, gradually turning white but not reaching maturity until 5 years of age. Gannets can be seen all year round from the north coast.
This beautiful bird is part of the Auk family. With its matt black feathers and white belly, the guillemot is a delicate featured bird. Medium in size, these birds are often seen on the water in groups and tightly packed on cliffs edges during the breeding season.
The name kittiwake comes from its call ' kitte-wa-aaake'. In the summer, they form large and noisy colonies nesting only on very steep cliffs. Unlike the young of other gulls, the kittiwake's chicks know to stay still to avoid falling. This bird looks like a seagull, white with grey back and wings, black wing tips and yellow bill and is of a similar size.
This charismatic little bird is probably the most well recognised bird of all our seabirds. With its smart little dinner jacket and brightly coloured bill, orange feet, black cap and beautiful detail around the eyes, the small and stocky puffin nests in large colonies in rock crevices or burrows in the soil. Puffins are thought to mate for life and share parenting duties, rearing a single chick who will fledge at night and spend its first few years at sea. At five years of age, a puffin will reach maturity and return to breed. They feed on small fish and zooplankton and can often be seen with a collection of small fish in their beaks to take back to his young. Unlike other seabirds, the puffin will not give his young regurgitated food but whole fish. Recognisable in flight, the puffin's small wings beat rapidly. He uses the same technique underwater to 'fly'. Outside of the breeding season the puffin looses the colour of his bright bill.
The razorbill is beautiful, with black head, feet, back and wings, only his front is white. If close enough, you will see they have a thin white line that runs from their bill to the corner of their eye. The bill of the razorbill is thick with a blunt end. They have longer tails than most Auks and their strong wings and streamlined bodies make them efficient hunters underwater. They only come inland to breed, rearing one chick on rocky cliffs. One parent will always stay with the chick until three weeks of age when the male razorbill will take the chick out to sea.