Which harbors in Devon offer the best opportunities for seal watching?

The coastal county of Devon, located in the southwest of England, is renowned for its breathtaking coastline and rich wildlife. Among its numerous attractions, the opportunity to observe seals in their natural habitat stands out as a particularly memorable experience. From the common seal to the grey seal, Devon's harbors provide an exceptional setting for wildlife enthusiasts, tourists, and local residents to view these charming marine creatures. Let's explore the harbors that offer the best opportunities for seal watching.

Brixham Harbour

Brixham, a small fishing town located in the district of Torbay, is home to a bustling harbour which is a hotspot for seal sightings. Situated on the southern side of Torbay, Brixham Harbour is known for its lively atmosphere and beautiful coastal views. Here, you can take a boat trip around the harbor and nearby coast to catch a glimpse of the seals.

The seals often frolic near the fishermen's boats, hoping for a quick meal. It's not uncommon to spot grey seals here, identifiable by their larger size and more elongated snouts compared to common seals. The best time to see them is during the morning, as they are more likely to approach the shore for sunbathing or hunting.

Ilfracombe Harbour

Ilfracombe is a seaside resort and civil parish in North Devon. Its harbor, located on the Bristol Channel, is another excellent spot for seal watching. This harbor is home to a significant seal population, thanks to the abundance of food available and the relatively calm waters.

Taking a boat trip from Ilfracombe Harbour gives you a chance to see seals in their natural habitat. The local boat operators know the best places around the harbor and the nearby Lundy Island where these animals can be spotted. Here, you'll mainly come across grey seals, known locally as "clowns of the sea" due to their playful behavior. These seals are generally spotted throughout the year, but their pups, with their adorable white fur, are usually born between September and November.

Lundy Island

Lundy Island, located off the coast of Devon, is another great location for seal watching. The island is situated in the Bristol Channel and is most easily accessible by boat from Ilfracombe or Bideford. Lundy Island is a haven for wildlife, including a variety of bird species and, of course, seals.

This island is home to both common and grey seals. These seals can usually be spotted sunbathing on the rocks or swimming in the nearby waters. Lundy Island is also a protected Marine Conservation Zone, providing a safe habitat for different species of wildlife. Boat trips around the island are popular, offering excellent opportunities to see these seals. The best time to visit for seal watching is during late summer and autumn, when the seals are most likely to be seen lounging on the rocks.

Start Bay, Dartmouth

Start Bay, located by Dartmouth, is an excellent place for seal watching. The bay's long, sweeping beaches and clear waters make it an attractive spot for both common and grey seals, particularly in the quieter and less populated areas.

Here, seals can be seen basking on the beach or in the sea, particularly during the quieter times of the day. Start Bay is also home to a small population of harbor porpoises, adding to the diversity of wildlife that can be spotted in this area. As Start Bay is a popular tourist spot, it's essential to respect the wildlife and maintain a safe distance from the seals, especially during pupping season.

Cornwall: An Honorable Mention

While not technically in Devon, the neighboring county of Cornwall also offers excellent opportunities for seal watching. Cornwall's rocky coastline and numerous harbors provide an ideal habitat for seals. Some of the best locations for seal watching in Cornwall include St Ives, Newquay, and the Scilly Isles.

Seal watching is a unique experience that offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of marine wildlife. Whether you're a seasoned wildlife enthusiast or a family on holiday, it's hard to beat the excitement of spotting a seal in its natural habitat. From Brixham to Ilfracombe, Lundy Island, and Dartmouth's Start Bay, each location offers unique opportunities for getting up close with these captivating creatures. Always remember to respect the seals' space and observe them from a safe distance to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

Berry Head, Brixham

Berry Head, a majestic limestone headland located in Brixham, offers another splendid location for seal watching. Part of the English Riviera, Berry Head boasts an astounding diversity of wildlife species, including common seals and grey seals that are frequently sighted in the waters.

While at Berry Head, you can take a relaxing stroll along the cliffs, where you might spot seals playing in the waters below or sunbathing on the rocks. A local boat trip to the area is also an excellent way to get a closer look at these delightful creatures while enjoying the stunning views of Torbay.

Moreover, Berry Head is home to the largest breeding colony of guillemots on the south coast of England, making it an exciting location for bird watchers as well. Just like the seals, these birds are easiest to spot during the early hours of the day when they venture out for food.

The Berry Head’s Visitor Centre caters to the needs of tourists by providing information on the best spots for seal watching, along with a variety of food & drink options. Despite being a renowned tourist spot, Berry Head maintains an atmosphere of tranquility, making it an ideal location to witness these animals in their natural habitat without disruption.

Dart Harbour

If you're looking to spot seals in the South Devon area, Dart Harbour is the place to be. This harbor, located near Dartmouth, is a popular destination for both tourists and locals, offering a rich array of activities including seal watching.

The Dart Harbour is renowned for its picturesque views and diverse wildlife, including both common seals and the larger, more distinctive grey seals. The harbour seals can often be spotted frolicking in the water or lounging on the nearby rocks.

One of the best ways to experience Dart Harbour is by taking a boat trip. These trips are led by knowledgeable guides who can provide fascinating insights about the local marine life. Not only do these trips offer a unique vantage point to spot seals, but they also provide stunning views of the South Devon coastline.

Summertime is the best time to visit Dart Harbour for seal watching, as this is when the harbour seals are most active. However, grey seal pups are typically born between September and November, making autumn another fantastic time to visit.


Devon is truly a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts and tourists who are interested in seal watching. From North Devon’s Ilfracombe Harbour to South Devon’s Dart Harbour, and from Lundy Island off the coast to Berry Head in Brixham, each location offers an unforgettable encounter with common and grey seals.

Moreover, the neighboring county of Cornwall, with its rocky coastline and abundant harbors, provides a bonus spot for seal watching. St Ives, Newquay, and the Scilly Isles, in particular, are noted hotspots for seals in Cornwall.

Remember, the best way to experience seal watching is through a local boat trip which can take you close to the seals while ensuring their safety and comfort. Don't forget to carry your camera to capture these charming creatures in their natural habitat.

Seal watching promotes an appreciation for marine wildlife and a greater understanding of the need for conservation. As such, it is vital to respect these beautiful creatures and their habitats, ensuring that our actions do not disturb them. Whether you’re a local resident, a tourist, or a hardcore wildlife enthusiast, the thrill and joy of seal watching in Devon will surely provide a unique and memorable experience. Always remember, the best time to spot seals is usually early in the day when they come out to sunbathe or hunt.

So, why wait? Pack your bags and head to Devon for an extraordinary seal watching adventure!

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