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Wildlife in Europe

The Atlantic coastline of Europe and Southern Scandinavia are home to a vast array of seabirds and marine life, from hundreds of bird species to seals, dolphins, porpoise and fish.

4 mins read

Sleek cetaceans

Look out for the elusive beaked whale in the Bay of Biscay. As we cruise along the Atlantic coastline, you might spot bottlenose, common or striped dolphins, as well as fin or minke whales. Often found sailing in the wake of ships, these playful sea mammals travel alone or in groups, occasionally performing acrobatic displays. Dolphin sightings are also common in the North Sea around Southern Scandinavia in summer.

Sociable and fun

The coastal bottlenose dolphin is most commonly seen along the Atlantic coast of Europe from Scotland down to Spain. Their combined population in this region is estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000. Much larger than other dolphin species, they can reach up to 4m in length. The bottlenose is grey with a pale underbelly, and has a curved head and stubby beak. Being fast swimmers, sociable, and fond of acrobatics, they are often seen leaping out of the water.

Snout nosed

Harbour seals live in temperate and polar waters along the east and west coasts of the North Atlantic. Their population in this area numbers around 200,000. Adults average 150cm in length and weigh around 70-100 kg, about half the size of grey seals. With their rounded head and snout-like noses, they are distinguishable from grey seals, which have a “Roman nose”. Unlike grey seals, harbour seals give birth in the summer months, and have one pup a year.

Seabirds and shorebirds

The climate, environment and conditions along Europe's Atlantic coast, the Channel and the North Sea welcome many breeds of sea and shore birds. In fact, the East Atlantic coast is one of the major routes for migratory birds, providing havens for staging and wintering. While spring and autumn are the main seasons for migration, you’ll see birds year-round.

Ile d’Aix and the area of Charente-Maritime attracts over 200 species of bird to its sandbanks and marshlands. Here and along the Brittany coast, you may spot Arctic Terns, puffins, guillemots and Razorbills. The UNESCO-listed Wadden Sea is the largest tidal flats system in the world and is home to 10,000 animal and plant species. It is an important resting area for migratory birds like the Eurasian Oystercatcher, Dunlin and the Black-tailed Godwit.

Seafood lover

The Eurasian Oystercatcher, with its elegant black and white plumage and long, orange-red bill and legs, is very distinctive from other waders. They are noisy birds, and are recognisable by their shrill peeping call. Eurasian Oystercatchers feed mainly on molluscs, crabs, earthworms and insect larvae. They use their bills to smash open shells and for foraging. They can also slide their laterally thin bills into mollusc shells, snip the adductor muscle to easily access the flesh.

The cold waters and coastal landscape of the North Sea attract a similar range of birds to Southern Scandinavia. Several hundred bird species have been sighted in the Skagen area of Denmark alone. As you explore the islands, skerries and shores of Bohuslän, Våderöarna, Kragerø and Farsund, you’ll be amazed at the variety of birdlife in your midst such as fulmars, storm-petrels, Northern Gannets.

Unique coldwater marine biosphere

The Koster Sea is home to Sweden’s only marine national park, and lies in the Bohuslän archipelago on the west coast. Here lies an incredible underwater ecosystem of cliffs and valleys, clay sea beds, forests of seaweed, rocky reefs, meadows of seagrass, shallow bays and narrow straits. Over 6,000 marine species thrive in its waters, with 200 species only found here. The area is home to one of the Atlantic’s largest coldwater coral reefs.

While most of the Koster Islands sit outside the national park, their rich natural history is a protected nature reserve. The waters of the archipelago are home to lobsters, crabs, shellfish, mackerel, and shrimp, as well as a variety of sponges, corals and anemones. The Koster Sea also has the largest harbour seal population in the North Sea, and along with porpoises, can often be seen hunting for herring and mackerel.

There’s a fantastic variety of birdlife waiting to be discovered. You might spot Barnacle Geese, Common Eider and Red-breasted Merganser feed in these areas or see cormorants, terns and oystercatchers interacting in their natural habitat.

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Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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