Seals may also be sighted between the Skerries and the coast, although perhaps they are more difficult to spot from the beaches. Harbour Seals are also known as Common Seals, and although they seem clumsy on land, they are perfectly adapted to life in the sea. The layers of blubber keep them warm and buoyant and they are able to swim and hunt within hours of birth! They are raised by a single parent and are rather inquisitive creatures often spotted by their dark heads peeking above the surface. The Grey Seal has also been spotted off Portrush. A lighter colour and larger size than their common counterpart, the Grey Seal’s Latin name means ‘hook-nosed sea pig’, which seems cruel but does give an indication to its appearance. The Grey Seal can dive down to 70m and has been known to eat lobster and octopus.
DOLPHINS & PORPOISES
Dolphins have also been sighted off the beaches of Portrush. Highly intelligent creatures, they work in groups to trap and catch their prey of squid and fish, working them into a ‘ball of bait’ before enjoying their hard work. Dolphins can be spotted by their graceful leaps from the water surface as they come up to release air. The Harbour Porpoise, a similar mammal to the dolphin, is distinguishable by its blunt nose. The shallow and cool waters off the coast of Portrush are perfect for the porpoise and they are often spotted close to the coast.
On rare occasions, Basking Sharks have been sighted off the coast of Portrush. Normally Basking Sharks like deeper waters to hunt in, but the females will seek out more shallow waters to give birth. They are social creatures, which means they will travel and hunt in a group. At an average of 6-8 metres long, they weigh around 5 tonnes each, but despite their reputations and the threatening dorsal fin which can be seen above the surface, they are filter feeders and only arrive in Spring to take advantage of the plankton blooms they feed on. They are made more visible as they swim just under the surface of the water with their mouths as wide open as possible to catch their food, not as aggressively as reputation would have it. There are numerous accounts and videos of Basking Sharks coming right up to the harbour or alongside boats off Portrush.
KILLER WHALE & COMMON MOLA
Other rare sightings off Portrush include the dramatically named Killer Whale (or Orca) with its distinct black and white markings and the Common Mola (or Ocean Sunfish) with its shark-like fin that points above the surface, making the fish as tall as it is long. Mola Mola feed mainly on jellyfish, weigh on average 1000kg and mostly spend their time at greater depths, only really coming to more shallow waters to sunbathe.