Chris Packham presents the series that examines Britain from an animal's point of view. Chris looks at the grey seal and the Manx shearwater.
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Britain. The history and the culture.
Born of a landscape that we know and love.
But hang on a minute...
That's just how WE see Britain.
We humans are in a minority.
We share our land and our shores here with hundreds of thousands of other species of animal,
many of which have been here a lot longer than we have.
So what I want to know is what they think of Britain.
What matters to them.
And that's my mission - to see the UK through our animals' eyes.
Where are their favourite places in these crowded islands?
How do their senses affect their view of our country?
And what do they make of us?
Off you go!
This time it's the turn of our coastal animals to have their say.
Prepare yourself for great cuteness.
What do they need from Britain and its humans?
Ouch! That's my finger, not the chip.
Why do many prefer these islands to anywhere else?
Well, I'll show you. Come with me.
Together they'll reveal our country as we've never seen it before.
Welcome to the Animal's Guide To Britain.
Britain has 19,500 miles of coastline.
I know some people think the British Isles are a bit puny, but that's a lot more than Italy, it's twice as
much as Spain and an astonishing three times as much as France has.
And, you know, we Britons have a great affinity for our coast.
We love it, but we come down here to the shore
and we look out there at the sea and it's terribly inaccessible to us and it all looks the same.
But, you know, it doesn't to coastal animals, and if we can look at the world from their point of view,
then I think that we can radically change the way that we think about our coastline.
In fact, I'll stick my head on the block.
I guarantee you, by the end of this programme, the next time
you go to the beach you'll be looking at a different world.
First up, a truly British animal.
I mean, you can forget the British bulldog, the lion, as symbols of our national heritage.
If you want a mammal to fly the flag for Britain then this is your animal.
Seals, seals, and more specifically, the grey seal.
I'm sure that many humans have seen these animals, either
bobbing around in the sea or lounging about on the rocks.
But few realise that Britain is internationally important for this species.
I can tell you that nearly half of the world's population of grey seals lives here in Britain.
So the big question has to be why?
From the seal's point of view, what's the big deal about Britain?
Well, I mean to find out.
Grey Seals were the first wild mammal in Britain to get their very own Act of Parliament -
the Grey Seal Protection Act of 1914.
But that's because Britain hasn't always been a great place for seals.
Back in the mists of time, some believed that seals were part human.
Children who had been turned into animals by a jealous stepmother.
But that didn't put the humans off hunting them for food, blubber and for their fine fur.
Used, for example, to make the furry sporran of a Scotsman's kilt.
By the 19th century, they were on the verge of vanishing from Britain's waters.
They're now protected.
There are colonies from the north of Scotland to here -
the Isles of Scilly in the far southwest.
But grey seals are a truly oceanic animal.
They can swim to almost anywhere they want to and if that's the case,
why do they choose to swim to Britain? The Isles of Scilly?
Well, to find that out, I'm going to have to get closer to the seals.
Seals may be clumsy on land, but just look at them now.
They're so agile, and confident, even in the company of a human.
There's no way they'd let me get this close to them on the shore.
I'm loving the seals, but not the water.
A seal, though, can reduce its loss of heat in water
by diverting blood from its skin to its vital organs.
And they have six centimetres of blubber.
But the downside of all of this insulation is that they're prone to overheating.
They only live where the sea averages between 2 and 12 degrees.
So clearly the water temperature has to be just right,
and I suppose you could liken the seal's insulation to us putting on a really thick, heavy winter coat.
You'd clearly be very picky about where you spent your time.
British coastal waters average at a perfect 11 degrees.
But our seals also come here for the fish.
Now, not all of Britain's seas are as crystal clear as this.
So how do seals manage to catch anything?
Well, their secret weapon is these fabulous whiskers.
They're so sensitive. They can detect fish even in zero visibility.
Goodness knows what they make of me.
Their whiskers pick up the minute disturbances that a fish makes in the water...
..and hunt it down by simply following its invisible wake.
So seals are superbly adapted for this marine environment and
they come here for the rich fishing and they can put up with the cold,
which is something that I can't. I can't wait to get out!
But have you ever wondered why the last time you took a walk on a beach you didn't see lots of seals,
the fact that they are not evenly spaced all around our coastline?
There's a very good reason for that and to demonstrate it,
I'm going to haul out onto one of these islands.
Almost all of our 100,000 grey seals are found on islands.
In fact, one of the reasons that seals like Britain so much
is the sheer number of islands.
Here on the Isles of Scilly there are 140,
but Britain as a whole has a staggering 6,346 islands.
But why are islands so important to these seals?
Well, I'll show you. Come with me.
I can just see what I'm looking for here.
Look at that.
This is a grey seal pup.
One of the main reasons that seals need islands is to give birth.
And this one is only a few days old.
It's at the very beginning of the pupping season now in September and
it will stretch all the way through to December.
In fact, it's not just this youngster here that I can see.
There are another couple just down in front of me here, hiding in the rocks.
When they're born, they're almost a bag of skin and bones,
but they're fed by the females on an incredibly rich milk.
They're able to put on two kilograms in weight every day.
The females will be giving them that milk for just over two weeks.
At the moment, the cows, the females, are just waiting offshore.
Every now and again they will come in and the young will suckle.
This is why they need secluded spaces, islands like this one,
because these creatures at the moment don't have enough blubber to survive in the sea
and would be vulnerable to predators on the mainland.
Adults may not be as vulnerable as baby seals, but out of water
they're still very wary, especially of humans.
And it doesn't take much to scare them back into the water.
Surely no harm in that, you might think.
In fact, going back into the water can have some quite serious consequences for these seals.
It's all down to the change in their blood flow when the seals get back into the sea.
You see, each year seals moult their fur.
In order to grow new fur, they need to supply the hair follicles in their skin with blood.
If a moulting seal gets frightened into cold water, blood is withdrawn
from their skin and that can stop them growing a new coat of hair.
So seals need long periods on land to moult successfully.
But there is another reason to come ashore -
to digest their food.
Imagine this. You're a seal, you're out here foraging for five or six days, you come back
with a bellyful of food and you haul out and start the digestive process.
Then all of a sudden you get scared into the water.
Well, that's a recipe for indigestion at the very least.
And more importantly, if it happens repeatedly, seals can't actually digest enough food to survive.
From a seal's point of view,
disturbance is clearly a big issue.
So perhaps even more important than our cool waters and the huge quantities of fish they contain.
Yes, it's our thousands of islands and their quiet, secluded coastlines
that make Britain a favourite home for grey seals.
Few humans visit any of these remote places, yet they are one of the main
reasons that our coastline is internationally important for many coastal creatures.
For one group of animals, Britain is a very special place indeed - our seabirds.
Gannets, razorbills, puffins, guillemots and many more besides are found here in vast numbers.
Britain's remote islands and coastlines are not only ideal for seals.
From a seabird's point of view, the UK is one of the best places in the world.
And amongst them, there is one species of seabird that is perhaps more British than all of the others.
Although perhaps surprisingly, few humans have ever heard of them
and only a tiny percentage of those humans have probably ever seen one.
90% of them, that's the full 9-0 percent
of the world's population are nesting in Britain right now -
The Manx shearwater.
But don't get your hopes up, because I can't show you one straightaway.
Just seeing one is hard enough, let alone getting its verdict on Britain.
This elusiveness has led to them being misunderstood in the past.
The first people to encounter them were marauding Vikings.
The shearwaters' nocturnal noises scared them so much,
they refused to land on some islands.
THEY CALL NOISILY
Once humans had got the courage to land on these islands, they
discovered shearwater chicks were full of precious oil.
They used them to burn in oil lamps.
They were also used as fertiliser
and lobster bait.
Their oil was even used to stop armour going rusty.
Nowadays, humans get their oil from other places
and our understanding of shearwaters has improved...a little.
We do know that they're extremely fussy birds...
..and only nest on a handful of special islands.
In the UK, the best places are Rum in Scotland,
Skomer Island in Wales, but also here on the magical Copeland Islands off Northern Ireland.
It's 9:29 precisely and the island is taking on a completely different feel.
The light has fallen, you can see Belfast twinkling over there,
17 miles away in the distance, and it's getting close to shearwater time.
There's just one thing.
They don't like the light, so we're going to have to switch from our normal camera into infrared.
This is going to be great.
MANX SHEARWATERS CALL NOISILY
You know, those old Vikings had a point.
That really is a very strange sound.
All of that mystique just adds to the excitement of actually meeting them.
Ooh, look at that.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Manx shearwater.
Well, wonderful but also terribly clumsy on land.
Like seals, they're designed for a life at sea, which is where all of these birds are coming from.
They can fly vast distances over open ocean,
migrating 20,000 miles to and from the coast of South America.
Their webbed feet, set right at the back of their body, are perfect for swimming on water.
But when they're on land, it means they're left to scrabble about and
this makes them really vulnerable to predators.
In their case, almost anything can grab them, especially gulls.
So they only come ashore in darkness.
They won't even land if there's a full moon.
Of course, the reason it's come to land is to get to its nest.
On summer nights they return, not only to the same island, but to the very same burrow.
Away from this island, we have very little idea of what they do.
We don't even know exactly where these birds go during the day.
Which is why, on Copeland Island, humans have made some alterations to their burrows.
Above the chamber of every single burrow, scientists have placed a numbered paving slab.
The birds can still come and go from the front entrance,
but these viewing hatches give us a unique opportunity.
Right, what's beneath the concrete, then?
This is one of our study burrows.
Oh, wow, what a fantastic thing.
So, Kerry, this is a known bird, then.
Presumably it's got a ring on here somewhere?
Absolutely. We can have a look at the ring number here
so we can identify that bird from our records, and if it was ringed as a chick we would know what age it was.
But ringing in some ways is becoming an old technology
-because of a new fad gadget.
This is a little GPS device.
It weighs approximately 15 grams.
That device will go on the back of the bird and it will generate GPS fixes every five minutes
by using satellites, and that will allow us to track the
movements of this bird when it leaves the burrow and the chick and goes out to sea to forage for food.
It will let us see exactly where it's been.
Because this is not transmitting remotely.
-You've got to get it back again.
-You have to get it back.
It's a benefit, then, that you know this bird has got to come back
because it's got a chick underneath this paving slab.
-You take the bird, let me take that.
What a fantastic little piece of kit.
This little device is going to give us a shearwater's view of Britain
in daylight for the first time.
-How much was it, Kerry?
£50? I'll have three.
It's going to be priceless.
I just hope the bird comes back.
The following day and there's not a shearwater to be seen on the island.
The adults left before dawn and now they're far out at sea.
They get their name from this banking and shearing flight.
It's so efficient, it enables them to cover huge distances.
But where do they go during the day?
And where do they catch their fish?
Somewhere out there, our study birds with their geo-locating
gadgets, are collecting data that should give us some answers.
Meanwhile, safely ensconced in the burrow number 37, is a chick.
I can have a peep at it because the adults are away. Now, look at this.
Prepare yourself for great cuteness.
Look at that. Ha ha!
What a wonderful little chick.
The adults lay an egg, which is about 20% their body weight.
It's a huge egg in proportion to their body size.
They then incubate it, both male and female, for about 55 days.
Then this little chap or chapess will remain in the nest here for up to 76 days.
So this is a very long and protracted breeding process.
But what you can't appreciate - I'll just
to lift him up very gently - is how tubby the little chick is.
Full of fish oil.
And to feed this fat chick, the parents need to spend a lot of time catching a lot of fish.
Oh, my goodness. Right, better pop it back in.
But where do they get all of that fish?
Hopefully, we'll soon find out.
For the first time, we'll be able to build a complete shearwater's guide
to Britain, their favourite spots, both on land and at sea.
Speaking as an impatient kid, how long is it going to take to download?
Ah, Chris, just a few moments to download the data and then we'll be able to look at a map
and see where the bird that was wearing this backpack has gone.
Oh, here we are, look.
No, it's a bit skewy there. What's happening here? That's where we originated, then.
Yep, that's Copeland. So this bird started off in Copeland.
It's travelled down to the south end of the Isle of Man around
the Calf of Man, and then out to a location northwest of Liverpool.
It spent several days feeding in this area before coming back to
the northern end of the Isle of Man, a little stop off, and then straight back to the colony very directly.
Kerry, from this data can you tell how far that bird has flown to chart this course?
Yes, this particular bird has flown 700 kilometres in just four days
to gather food to bring back to feed its chick.
700 kilometres, four days.
Amazing. It's got to have been worthwhile, though.
And they can find it straightaway. They're flying straight to it and then flying straight back again.
There's no messing about. The bird knows where it's going and it knows that's a potentially
good area where it can forage to bring food back for its chick.
It's brilliant. We took this little thing off the back of a bird and
it's told us exactly where it's been for the last four days.
It's intrinsically fascinating, or it is for me.
What does it offer the shearwaters? What are the long-term benefits of
this project from their point of view?
Well, Chris, a lot of the nesting sites like this island
are very well protected, but the marine areas that these birds are utilising
to feed in are not protected at all.
So this kind of data, built up over a number of years, is going to
help to piece together the picture of the life of the shearwater at sea and help to protect it.
The results have only just started coming in,
but they're already making us aware of the needs of these birds.
It seems that shearwaters are feeding on fish over a massive area of British waters.
Almost all of the world's Manx shearwaters nest on a mere handful of British islands.
You could say that they've put all their eggs into one or two precious baskets.
In Britain, those baskets are pretty safe,
but out at sea their vital feeding areas have no protection.
Humans, naturally, have a very land-based view of the coast.
But for coastal animals,
it's the combination of sea and land that is so important.
Think back to your childhood seaside trips.
Vauxhall Viva, Mum navigating, Dad getting really angry, nowhere to park.
Finally get to the beach, some bigger kid kicks sand in your face.
Your sister drops her ice cream.
There are tears. But at least for me,
I could lay back on my towel and listen to the sound of the seaside.
-That iconic British coastal animal.
I have to say, though, in recent times this creature's gone through a bit of an image change.
Some people now consider them to be a bit of a nuisance.
And I have to say, at the moment, I couldn't disagree myself.
Ouch! That's my finger, not the chip.
At least learn how to take the chip.
I'm talking about seagulls.
Seagulls. And one thing we've got to be clear about from the start, is there's no such thing as a seagull.
There are gulls and there are 24 of these things on the British list.
These are herring gulls.
Looking down there on the beach I can see... There you go!
I can see black-headed gulls and I can see a couple of common gulls.
They're not seagulls. They're gulls.
And their view of Britain is totally different to a shearwater's.
Although it's a view that has changed drastically in recent years.
I'll show you.
That's it. You've eaten everything.
So what is the gulls' side of the story?
Well, the answer might lie in their natural history, or more precisely their physiology.
You see, gulls don't have too many specialist adaptations.
I mean, compare them with owls which have extraordinary nocturnal
vision, great hearing, talons for killing their prey.
Or swallows - swept-back wings for aerodynamic flight.
These are specialist, but the gulls, if you like, are more of a generalist.
A sort of jack of many trades. And a jack of many trades is what makes them such a success.
Gulls are used to looking out for new feeding opportunities.
Unwittingly, that's exactly what humans are providing them with here.
Now, the curious thing is that we've always had
loads of rubbish in Britain but we haven't always had loads of gulls coming to pick through it.
But why? When did they first start coming to our rubbish tips?
Well, you see, rubbish isn't just rubbish.
Rubbish has changed.
Time for a bit of a history lesson.
100 years ago, humans threw away much less rubbish.
They used to recycle food, compost it or feed it to animals.
The gulls' menu was exclusively coastal.
Then after the Second World War, food rationing stopped.
As Harold Macmillan said, humans never had it so good.
Humans started throwing away much more food
and gulls started to move inland to take advantage.
But perhaps the biggest change took place in 1956.
And let me tell you, if you were a gull, 1956 was a big year for you
because parliament passed the Clean Air Act.
Now, you might wonder what's clean air got to do with gulls and rubbish? Well, I'll tell you.
Up until that point, we were allowed to burn all of this, but after that point we weren't allowed.
Now it has to be collected and brought here to these landfill sites. And the gulls?
Well, they just love that.
But gulls do have other needs besides just eating.
Like somewhere to nest.
In Bath, one man has being trying to understand why this city is so attractive to a seabird.
It requires taking a gull's-eye view of things.
Peter, this is a great collection of man-made structures.
Gulls view these rather differently, don't they?
Because there are many parallels with the gulls' natural environment of course.
Absolutely. This roof - nice and flat.
Lesser black-backed gulls breed on dunes.
Over there, in amongst all of those thousands of chimney pots,
that's where the herring gulls breed.
It's a tendency, but what's interesting
is that those innate tendencies that you see in the wild
are being echoed here in town.
-We've built them cliff tops, haven't we?
-Yes, we have.
In some respects this is even better than their natural nest sites.
I mean, surely there's fewer predators up here?
You know, there aren't any foxes scaling the lifts and the stairs to this rooftop.
And better - hardly any disturbance.
There's nobody up here. Why would they want to come here?
Except to repair all this equipment, but that's infrequent.
No ramblers and dog walkers. It's very peaceful.
-This is gull heaven, really.
-What about population, though?
In Bath as a whole, just short of 1,000 pairs.
That's a good, healthy population of birds these days, isn't it?
-But in the grand scheme of things, Bath is actually a fairly small colony.
-Bristol - 2,500.
Gloucester - over 3,000.
Cardiff - over 3,000 pairs.
This is a lot of birds.
So what we're looking at here is an ideal opportunity for them.
The gulls' favourite places in Britain are no longer confined to the coast.
They now include the entire country, even the middle of the Midlands.
So is that it, then? If you're a gull, is Britain a Utopian paradise where you're spoilt for choice?
Well, not exactly, because conditions here on the coast are changing.
These days, there are far fewer commercial fishing boats in British waters than there used to be
and humans have, by and large, stopped throwing away fish guts.
Instead much of it is kept and used as fishmeal fertilizer.
Gulls might hang around fishing boats in hope, but human handouts have dwindled.
Consequently, most coastal gull populations are now drastically declining.
Herring gulls have actually declined by 50% since my childhood.
Even accounting for their increase in cities, numbers have halved across the whole of Britain.
So there are several reasons why gulls are moving inland and taking up residence in our cities.
Firstly, we're providing them with lots of food on those rubbish tips
and also high-quality accommodation on the tops of our buildings.
But at the same time, we're driving them away from the coasts
and what these creatures are actually doing
is changing their habits to cope with a change in ours.
But look at this... I can't entirely agree with it.
Firstly, they're not strictly seagulls,
as I've explained, and they're not vicious either.
I would argue that they're opportunists, just like us.
Now, let's get back to our seaside holidays.
Whilst I admit it isn't everyone's idea of a great summer wildlife encounter to have their sandwiches
stolen by gulls, there is a creature that provides an altogether more therapeutic experience.
You can find them on every single stretch of the British coastline.
They survive in salt water, brackish water, thankfully, even out of the water.
And all of these people here have come to encounter them.
Gosh, you've done well. You've got a bucketful!
Is it all right if I have a look at one? Thank you very much. Thank you.
And the creature that we're talking about here... Here it is,
the shore crab - nature's equivalent to the Swiss Army penknife.
Armed with a couple of formidable pincers here, good for manipulating
their food or warding off predators, eight legs and a really tough shell.
Eyes on stalks which can fold down so they're protected.
In fact it's got appendages for every occasion.
But for all of this fortitude, I've got to tell you
that lying beneath the shell is a very sensitive animal.
The question is, what do the crabs make of Britain?
Shore crabs have found something of a sanctuary in Britain.
While crabs have been eaten in Britain for centuries,
these were mostly the larger, edible crab.
Shore crabs were pretty much ignored.
That was until the Victorian era and the rise of the seaside holiday.
Since then, shore crabs have had to endure the annual onslaught of children's nets.
Today they're also sought-after by fishermen who use them as bait -
fish can smell them a mile off.
British shore crabs are still better off
than their cousins on the continent though,
where they're an essential ingredient in some soups.
They're known there as "le crabe vert", because they're green.
In Britain they're called shore crabs, because...
Well, because of where they're found.
But why do shore crabs live here on the shore and not out there at sea?
To answer that we need to understand the crab's world -
a world of smells, odours and pheromones.
But what has smell got to do with where crabs live?
Well, if I have a rummage around in here, I should be able to answer that.
This may look like a dead crab to you.
It's largely complete.
It's got most of its limbs.
You can see the carapace here.
But this is a crab's shed skin.
Shedding their skin is something they need to do every few months in order to grow.
When they shed their skin, initially the new one is very soft.
But what's especially dangerous
is that it gives off a very distinctive odour.
This makes them very vulnerable to predators, all sorts of things - fish, octopuses, cuttlefish,.
Just imagine that - when you're at your most vulnerable,
you've got to hide, not just out of sight, but out of smell.
And that's why down on the shore these animals are always hiding beneath the weed and the rocks.
Crabs themselves have an amazing sense of smell -
they can detect a single drop in a billion of sea water.
But they don't have noses.
Instead, they smell with their feet.
They use smell in almost all aspects of their lives -
caring for eggs, choosing a home, and of course, finding food.
But when it comes to smell, from these crabs' point of view, the most important thing is that of mating.
To illustrate that I'm going to need to go to the lab.
I love a little demonstration.
Now, in this tank here
there are four female shore crabs and over here is a male.
I have to tell you that this is the Clark Gable, the Johnny Depp, the Taylor Lautner of crabs.
Let's just see what happens when I drop him in with these females.
Now, come on.
Four females - a great opportunity.
Shall we just save a lot of time?
Because I can tell you nothing is going to happen in here.
There's a very simple reason for that
and it's down to the protective exoskeleton of these female crabs.
It's brilliantly designed to protect them from predators, but it makes it very, very tough to mate.
In fact, the female, if you'll forgive me, has to get her kit off in order to mate.
She has to shed her skin.
So how does the male know that the female is going to shed her skin?
Well, it's down to smell.
Now, in this second tank, there's another female.
I know it looks identical to those in here, but it's not.
It's actually about to shed its skin.
In this state she's giving off a very distinctive chemical smell.
I can show you using a bit of harmless food dye.
If I introduce this around the female...
..you should be able to see it in the water
and therefore see the currents moving due to her fanning.
Look at that. She's wafting her scent into the water.
So in truth there's only one thing she's short of - an interested male.
And I think I know where I can find one.
Here we are.
Now, come on, this is your big chance to perform.
Remember, the only difference with this female is her smell.
He can detect it immediately.
He's using smell receptors on his feet,
smelling that there's been a female in there.
Now the male is beginning to approach her.
He's responding to her smell.
He's cornered her there.
And he's caged her with his legs
and he'll keep her there until she sheds her skin
and then she'll turn over and they'll mate. Look at that...
That's fantastic, absolutely fantastic.
So as you've just seen, all of that, all of that behaviour, is governed by one thing - smell.
'On the coast, this smell means that mating pairs need to be the best hidden of all shore crabs
'and take some finding.'
I'll look underneath this stone.
Ah, here they are.
Now, this couple aren't hiding because they're bashful,
they're hiding because of those female pheromones.
You see, when the female gives off her pheromones, it's not just crabs that detect it.
Predators such as fish can do the same.
So for that reason, the females move onto the beach out of the open water.
But then all of these crabs that I found down on the shore here, milling around at the moment,
are males, waiting for a sniff of that pheromone.
They're going to sweep up the beach here looking for the females.
Of course, once they find one, they don't want to lose it
to any of these other roaming crustaceal Romeos.
So they take the females to the top of the beach, well out of their reach.
The crabs' view of Britain is dictated almost entirely by odours.
Males need to keep the fragrant females to themselves and the whiff
of a shedding skin makes all crabs vulnerable to predators.
We humans don't give a second thought
to the way Britain smells underwater,
but then we don't see the world through a crab's eyes, or rather their feet.
And you've got to admit, that is an unusual way of looking at Britain.
Our islands are surrounded by rocky shores,
so when it comes to hiding places, shore crabs are spoiled for choice.
If there's one creature that maybe has the most unusual view of Britain
then perhaps it's our most enigmatic and exotic coastal resident.
Now technically, you can see these animals anywhere around the British coastline, although,
to be honest with you, I think you're going to be needing to look for them outside a few key areas.
It's not that they're small, they can be absolutely huge.
And it's certainly not that they're dull, because they're magnificent.
In fact, they're top of many people's zoological pops.
Eight species of dolphin have been recorded in UK waters.
Two places, Cardigan Bay in Wales and the Moray Firth in Scotland,
have resident populations of the largest species -
the bottlenose dolphin.
I'm in Scotland to find out what they think of Britain.
We're heading out into the Firth and do you know what?
I'm unnaturally confident that we're going to see dolphins.
I know that's the kiss of death, but look - conditions are perfect
and this really is a very good place for them.
Historically, much of our coast was good for dolphins.
In the 19th century, dolphins were seen near many of our rivers and estuaries.
But this changed with the Industrial Revolution.
Rivers became polluted and dolphins moved away.
In the 1970s, the place to see them
was in one of Britain's 36 dolphinariums,
or travelling dolphin shows.
But dolphins are highly intelligent.
And their captive conditions were... Well, unsuitable.
So in 1990, some humans launched a campaign to save them.
Just one year later, the last captive British dolphin was released into the wild.
Ha, ha-ha! I said I was confident.
This is superb, honestly. Absolutely superb.
For me, it's not the Flipper thing, it's not the spiritual thing, it's the...inaccessibility
of these animals in the ocean and then the unpredictability when they just suddenly surge up.
You can't help but be totally drawn into the excitement of the moment,
but I've got to try and stay calm.
-There are about 190...
..of these animals in this population here
and you will normally find between 80 and 130
in the inland part of the Firth here.
Although during the summer,
most of the others will come in here to exploit the rich source of fish.
Pretty much the same thing is going on down in Cardigan Bay.
So that's there and here, as it were, but why don't we find these animals elsewhere?
'It's down to that rich fishing.'
Their favourite fish are salmon and sea trout.
They intercept them where rivers meet the sea, before the fish migrate upstream to breed.
But a single salmon river isn't enough.
Dolphins need lots of salmon rivers in one small area of the coast.
That's exactly what they've got in Wales -
ten salmon rivers flowing into Cardigan Bay.
In Scotland, more than 30 rivers flow into the Moray Firth.
And crucially, the timing of the salmon migrations is different
for each river, so there are salmon here almost all year round.
But that's only part of the story.
To really understand it, we need to know how dolphins see Britain.
Well, when I say see, I actually mean hear.
Dolphins, you see, experience the world through sound,
using both echo location, which I'll come to,
and fantastic conventional hearing.
Under the waves, they can decipher the intricate soundscapes of our coasts.
Most humans don't give a second thought to what Britain sounds like underwater.
That's a bit of a problem for dolphins because we've unthinkingly added a lot of new noises.
So what do the dolphins make of all this?
-What can I say? It was amazing!
-They're still going.
They're still there, we'll get very distracted.
Can I ask you about their acoustic abilities
because they're profound, aren't they?
Very advanced acoustics that they have.
It's something that we're still working on
and learning about all the time.
It's well above anything that humans could ever have.
What do we think about the problems that we cause?
Because we make so much noise in the water.
Noise is one of the things we're worried about and we want to find out more about.
One of the major things dolphins have is communicating through whistles.
They can communicate with each other that way
and then they can actually keep in touch over kilometres of distance.
If it's very noisy, how can they keep in touch?
They wouldn't be able to hear members of their group
and wouldn't be able to find those members of their group.
Is there any evidence that they avoid areas
where there's a lot of boat traffic or anything like that?
There's been research done elsewhere, where if boat numbers increase,
dolphins can move out of the area, which is really sad and worrying.
But it's not just boats,
drilling and oil exploration make loud bangs underwater.
Fish farms emit sounds to scare off seals, but they also scare off dolphins.
And submarines can emit extremely powerful low-frequency sound.
The Dolphin's Guide To Britain would be a minefield of noisy areas that dolphins should avoid.
But conventional hearing isn't the only thing that affects a dolphin's view of Britain.
They also have another super-sense - SONAR.
Sound, Navigation And Ranging, at least that's what we call it.
In the natural world, it's called echo location.
Dolphins can use reflected echoes of their own sounds so they can build up a visual picture of their world.
That sounds pretty complicated, but come with me and I'll show you what I mean.
Excuse me, Bill. Can I just take a look at your SONAR device?
This is it, and remember,
this is a visual representation made up by sound.
Beneath my feet is a small device that's emitting a pulse of sound out into the water.
It's being collected by another and analysed by the computer. It's producing this.
When I look at this, I can learn to understand the world through sound.
Here is the surface, there's a bit of noise there made by the waves breaking.
And look, here is the bottom of the sea. I can even see some seaweed.
Look, here's potentially some fish here, a little shoal of them above the rocks.
It's amazing, isn't it? I bet it cost Bill quite a lot of money too.
I equally bet that if I was a dolphin using echo location,
my sonic picture of the world would be much better than that.
Dolphin echo location is so good
that they can identify not only the whereabouts of fish,
but also the species, even at a distance of 200 metres.
They can also read the shape and features of the seabed, even in the murkiest of British waters.
Once they've found their salmon, they can chase them into the perfect ambush position.
Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth.
The reason they come here is all down to the architecture of the beach just out here.
It makes it a perfect place for them to come fishing.
From a human perspective, there's nothing particularly special about this place.
Above the waves, the sea looks much like anywhere else.
A dolphin's view of the beach though is rather different.
In open water, salmon aren't easy to catch.
But here, the land juts far out into the Firth,
allowing dolphins to trap the fish against the slope of the beach.
With a year-round supply of fish, somewhere to catch them,
and relatively free from noise pollution,
this is probably the best place in the whole of Britain for dolphins.
It strikes me that only by looking at our coast as a dolphin or as another coastal creature would,
can we start to understand it and truly appreciate its value.
When you think about it, Britain is a collection of islands surrounded by some fantastic coastline.
It's our least-known habitat, but as we've learned, it's also our most important.
So it's a bit of a paradox that it's also our least protected.
We only have three marine nature reserves, whereas on land,
we've got tens of thousands of protected areas for wildlife.
The good news though - we do have a new Marine Bill, so the future is looking good, generally.
But what about our particular group of coastal creatures?
What might they ask us for to improve their lot?
Well, the crabs - they're hiding for a reason.
If you find them, don't blow their cover.
Dolphins - they want the noise turned down.
That is something that we might consider.
The gulls? Well, I'm afraid to say, it looks like they're coming to a rooftop near you.
If they've already arrived and are leaving deposits on your car,
get soapy water and show some tolerance.
That just leaves the shearwaters and the seals.
Well, both of these animals have globally important populations here in Britain.
So I guess if they're asking for something, it's to remind us
that their future security is in our human hands.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Chris Packham presents the series that examines Britain from an animal's point of view. Each week he encounters an elite group of five animals each of which senses the world in a very different way. By understanding their needs, problems and histories on these islands, Chris reveals what they make of modern Britain - and its humans.
This time Chris looks at coastal animals. Chris investigates why the waters and coastlines of the UK are the most popular places in the world for two of our coastal species: the grey seal and the Manx shearwater. He also makes a stand for an animal that he considers much misunderstood - the British gull. And he meets two animals which have truly extraordinary ways of sensing Britain's coastal environments - the shore crab which finds its way around by smelling through its feet; and the bottlenose dolphin which can identify a fish at 200 paces in the pitch black, using echolocation.