©Participez a l'observation des grands dauphins a Port-Mer Experience bretonne|DERENNES Yannick

Six marine animal species to observe in Brittany

Discreetly and in their natural habitat

The coastline, bays and archipelagos in Brittany are a haven for many sea mammals and birds. Some, such as the common bottlenose dolphin, live there all year round. Others, like the Northern gannet, make stopovers here. Here are six species to sensibly observe close up for some touching encounters!

In the blink of an eye

1. The common bottlenose dolphin, emblematic but wild

One fin, then two, then three… What a delight to see the bottlenose dolphins gliding through the Breton water! Although they can cover up to 100 km in one day, this all-grey cetacean has a sedentary nature. Some 400 individuals live in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, which is the greatest population in Europe. Two groups live in the Iroise Sea, around the isles of Molène and Sein. It’s a playful animal, but don’t forget that the common bottlenose dolphin is a wild animal with temperament. If it thumps its tail,  this means it is annoyed. Let it come to you by itself. You might see other common dolphins or Risso’s dolphin, porpoises or, more rarely, long-finned pilot whale, sperm whale and killer whale.

2. The basking shark, strong but fragile

What are your best chances to see the basking shark? In the spring or summer, when it is calmly swimming at the surface, not far from the coasts of Morbihan, between Groix and Ploemeur or Houat and Quiberon. You can also see them near the Glénan isles or in the Iroise Sea. To find them, follow the “tide lines”. This is where the basking shark hunts the plankton it loves so much. Although impressive in size, this shark is inoffensive and especially vulnerable. The species is critically endangered. Just like the shortfin mako shark, which has returned to Northern Brittany, off the coasts of Trégor and around Bréhat. Its distinctive sign is the white mark on its rounded fin.


3. The grey seal, at ease in the Iroise Sea

A dark coat is a male. A light spotted coat is a female. The grey seal is happy in the water in the Iroise natural marine park, where the largest colony in France lives. Numbers reach their peak in winter, for moulting. But they can be seen all year round. Notably resting on the rocky islets of Sein, Molène or near Pointe de Penmarc’h. Its favourite position? The “banana”: head and tail raised. There are also a few  individuals in the Sept-Îles archipelago and the Bay of Morlaix. Set out to meet them on a snorkelling tour, leaving from Plougasnou. It’s magical! Don’t confuse it with the harbour seal. The latter is smaller and can be seen in Mont-Saint-Michel bay.

4. The Atlantic puffin, a vulnerable “Sea parrot”

Thanks to its large colourful beak, it is nicknamed the “Sea parrot”. The Atlantic puffin is a “survivor”. Hunting, oil spills and global warming have contributed to decimating the species. Today, just 150 to 200 couples make up the last visible colony in Brittany (and in France!), in the Sept-Iles protected nature reserve. This sea bird, which is the emblem of the LPO bird protection league, returns here each year, from mid-March to mid-July, to reproduce and feed its single infant. Don’t miss it! You’ll probably see it with its beak full of fry for its chick. On land, its clumsy gait and its multiple gestures make it adorable!

5. The razorbill, the rarest and most threatened sea bird in France

Yes, despite its similar appearance to a penguin, it can fly? Yes, and very well! They are fearful and tend to flee if you get too close to them. Chubby, with a hooked beak and black and white suit, this sea bird, which is the rarest and most threatened in France, comes to Brittany in the spring. Notably in the Sept-Îles archipelago, where it nests (February to July), and in Douarnenez bay, sheltered from the storms. On water, the razorbill floats like a cork. The best way to see them is from a boat. But you can also see them in the ports, such as Le Conquet. This sociable bird enjoys the company of the common murre, which from afar looks just like it. Don’t get them mixed up!

The Northern gannet, the star of the Sept-Îles archipelago

This is a dapper bird with fine-looking plumage! With its tapered white body, soft yellow head and blue bill, the Northern gannet is as handsome as it is noisy… Judge for yourself with a boat trip to the Sept-Îles nature reserve. Here, on Rouzic specifically, lives the only nesting colony of this sea giant (1.70 m wing span!) in France. From the end of January to September, over 11,500 couples rekindle their link after a winter roaming the sea. When they are not fighting with their fellows on land, the Northern gannet is fishing… In “Concorde” pose, with its wings folded backwards, to dive head first into the water. Impressive!

Approach the cetaceans in an eco-responsible way

Sea mammals, and particularly mother-baby duos, are very sensitive to disturbance. When choosing your outings, opt for service providers that apply simple non-intrusion rules (speed, direction, trajectory, and a distance of at least 100 metres between the vessel and the animal) in order to preserve their peace and quiet and maintain their health.

Act responsibly when approaching sea mammals:

  • If the animals come close by themselves, do not attempt to touch them, directly or with an instrument, feed them or swim with them: they are fragile animals and a danger to humans;
  • Be quiet during your observations; do not shout or make noise with objects on vessels.

If your follow these instructions, you might be lucky to observe these animals in the best conditions.

Your observations are precious: if you navigate with your own vessel in Brittany, remember to leave your observations on the Obsenmer platform.

They allow scientists to add to their knowledge and thus to help preserve the species.


See the Natura 2000 Charter of good practice (FR)

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Official website of tourism in Brittany