During the summer of 2020 there were pods of dolphins regularly sited along the coasts of the Isle of Wight. Many said it was potentially due to the lack of ‘noisy’ boats and reduction in shipping due to pandemic restrictions. Similar to areas of the UK that saw extraordinary animal take overs such as the herd of fallow deer seen grazing at a housing estate in Harold Hill in East London, or the herd of goats who took over the deserted town centre of Llandudno eating garden hedges and flowers, the dolphins took full advantage of the clear waterways. In fact, all over the world, animals have started to reclaim their ground during the COVID19 pandemic with immense ease and confidence.
Meanwhile here on the Island, I was VERY excited about the idea of swimming with the newly spotted dolphins!
Dolphins are more normally seen in the South side of the Island but during lockdown they were spotted in pods of up to 20 off Bembridge and Ryde. More unusually, they were seen off the beach at Cowes and I also saw them off The Needles. This surely must mean that they were swimming past Gurnard en route from one to the other. But when were they swimming past the beach? Would they inquisitively come inshore a little? Would they want to play?
I had grand hopes for spotting the dolphins joyfully throwing themselves over the waves, playful fins dancing towards us whilst we splashed along. I had even been practicing my squeaky dolphin calls (everyone does don’t they?!) and had the childhood TV series Flipper firmly in my mind. [See below for a childhood reminder]
Karen however had very different thoughts on the subject. Growing up in Hong Kong, fins to Karen mean sharks. It’s easy to understand this not totally unfounded built-in terror from a shark invested environment. Even a passing summertime helicopter flying over, probably transporting some A-list celebrity to their secret Island hideaway, stirs up fears of shark spotting aircraft in Karen’s subconscious. There is no end of discussion about how there really aren’t any Great Whites or Tiger Sharks in The Solent, but if it’s been a reality in your formative years it’s hard not to have an underlying fear. But rest assured, this is the cold South Coast of England with one of the busiest sea traffic areas so sharks are hardly coming to hang out with us swimmers on the Island! And… I have to admit to a totally unexplained fear of octopuses that similarly can cross the mind when swimming further from the beach, but I’ll explore that at a later date.
Experiences aside, we both agree that sharks are amazing creatures. They have roamed the seas on our planet for millennia, even outliving dinosaurs, and command a specific, superior place in the hierarchy of predators in the oceans. They are intelligent, agile creatures that are endangered specifically by human overfishing. Currently an estimated 1 in 4 of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction and require action without delay (Shark Trust 2021).
If you’d like to know more about sharks and their wider ray and skate family take a look at The Shark Trust. They aim to safeguard the future of sharks through positive change, achieving this through science, education, influence and action. Education is key. Can you tell that I’m an enthusiastic member?
In all likelihood any fins spotted off the North Coast of the Isle of Wight will be those of dolphins or porpoise… although I may need to resuscitate my swim buddy after the understandable shock of seeing any fin swimming towards us!
Here’s to a summer of warm weather and more dolphin spotting 😊 (Although I am secretly ever hopeful of spotting a gummy Basking Shark off the coast of the Island one day)