Unusual marine animals you may come across in France

Requin-Pèlerin

You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to be amazed! Generation Voyage presents 6 unusual marine animals to discover in France.

To this day, marine wildlife remains a mystery to many of us. When we think of dolphins, sharks and other cetaceans, we often imagine having to travel to the other side of the world to observe them, or being obliged to visit dedicated aquatic parks.

Yet it’s not impossible to come face to face with these animals in their natural environment. That’s why Generation Voyage today presents its top 6 unusual marine animals that you can find (with a little patience, and a lot of luck…) along the French coast.

The seal

Phoque

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Ondrej Prosicky

Let’s start with the one that is by far the most present on our coasts in this top list of unusual marine animals to discover in France: the seal. In fact, whether we’re talking about harbor seals or gray seals, it’s estimated that several hundred of these mammals populate the coasts of Brittany and Normandy every year. A high number, but a tiny one when compared with the British authorities’ figure of over 350,000.

Watching them couldn’t be easier. The Bay of the Somme and the beaches of Normandy are home to the seal. Sedentary, they take advantage of the low water temperatures in Normandy all year round. To be sure of spotting them, you’ll need to survey the beaches either 3 hours before or 3 hours after low tide.

The gray seal, on the other hand, is a rarer sight. However, you can still appreciate its mottled skin and pretty whiskers in the heart of the Cotentin peninsula, or once again on the Breton coast, more particularly on the Molène and Sept-Îles archipelagos.

  • Watching baby seals:
  • If you want to see baby seals, you’ll need to visit the beaches of Normandy and Brittany in spring. However, it is absolutely necessary to take great precautions.

    In fact, if you approach to less than 300m, the seals may become frightened and flee, abandoning their pups…

The basking shark

Requin-Pèlerin - animaux marins france

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Martin Prochazkacz

Beware, this time it’s the second largest fish in the world we’re presenting to you… The basking shark! Last seen on September 21, 2020 off the coast ofIle de Ré, it’s in the heart of Finistère that this specimen is most often seen.

But don’t panic if you’re planning a trip to the Iroise Sea or the Glénan archipelago: the basking shark feeds exclusively on plankton!

You’ll be able to admire them without too much difficulty, all year round, and without fear, therefore, during a cruise or expedition. Between 1998 and 2017, over 1,300 basking sharks were spotted on the French coast.

The torda penguin

Pingouin torda

Photo credit: Shutterstock – AndreAnita

Here’s the GV editorial team’s favorite: the torda penguin. In simple terms, this is the world’s last penguin species… In fact, what we generally call penguins are actually penguins, and the Tordas are the last representatives of their species. In the 2000s, there were only a dozen of them left. At the dawn of 2021, they are approaching a hundred.

To catch a glimpse of them, you’ll have to go to Finistère once again, and more precisely to the rocky shores of the Bay of Douarnenez. The first Tordas appear in late summer, after breeding on land, and settle in until March.

  • The torda penguin: a seabird
  • Once they’re in the water, from late summer until March, Razorbills never set foot on land again. They live, eat, drink and sleep in the sea throughout this period.

The dolphin

Dauphin - animaux marins france

Photo credit: Shutterstock – LABETAA Andre

Ah… the dolphin! Isn’t the dolphin one of the most emblematic animals of our childhood? In the collective imagination, they often represent kindness, gentleness and adventure. Many children (or grown-ups) dream of watching them swimming at full speed, leaping over the water…

For this reason, we strongly advise against water parks featuring dolphin, sea lion and orca shows. Nothing beats observing these marine animals in the wild, in their own environment. Especially when, as in the case of dolphins, they are so easy to spot on the French coast.

Whether off the coast of Brittany, the Côte d’Azur or Corsica, dolphins are becoming more and more numerous every year. Both common and bottlenose dolphins can be found when the seas are calm.

To give yourself the best chance of success, we advise you to opt for this type of outing between April and October, and especially during the summer months.

The sperm whale

Cachalot

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Willyam Bradberry

Unlike the marine animals mentioned above, the sperm whale is a rarity on the French coast. Rare, but not invisible!

Sperm whales can be found in the Bay of Biscay as well as in Mediterranean waters. In August 2019, an exceptional phenomenon took place off the coast of Nice… A school of sperm whales, no less than 11 in all, took up residence in the heart of the Mediterranean.

Regularly performing long breathing sequences on the surface of the water, and sailing at reduced speed, the mammals were observed and filmed for several hours.

  • The curse of Le Havre:
  • In 2016, a 14-metre sperm whale weighing around 15 tonnes ran aground in the Seine estuary nature reserve near the port of Le Havre. A year earlier, a 14-meter whale had already been discovered on the beaches of Le Havre, having been struck by at least two boats…

The Atlantic puffin

Macareux - animaux marins france

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Evikka

Back to the coast of Brittany and the Sept-Îles reserve to observe a rare bird: the puffin. Both emblematic of the Nordic countries and extremely rare in the rest of the world, the puffin is a round bird with a black cape, multicolored beak and clumsy gait.

While the Ile-Grande LPO rescue center counts around a hundred pairs of puffins every summer, there were over 8,000 in the mid-19th century. The cause? Global warming. With water temperatures having risen by several degrees in recent years, fish stocks are migrating and the puffin has to travel much further to feed, leaving it exhausted.

What’s more, puffin pairs only produce one egg a year, between April and May, making reproduction difficult. In fact, it’s during this period that you’re most likely to come across a puffin in Réserve des Sept-Îles.