As an island with many accessible inlets and views over the water, we are dominated by our marine environment. Once you become aware of it, there is a captivating abundance of sea life on and around Iona. Children fish for small crabs off the jetty, and spend hours in the rock pools watching tiny animals including sea anemones, crabs, hermit crabs, and fish.
There is at least one family of Bottlenosed Dolphins (7 – 13 feet long) that live around Mull all year round. They come into Iona sound every few months, and tend to stay in the area for a few days, feeding, and playing with the boats, coming into the sound for up to an hour a day before swiftly moving on. They can be exuberant and responsive, racing along the side of the boat, crisscrossing underneath it, and leaping out of the water, appearing to vie with each other in their acrobatics.
Common Dolphins (8 foot long) are the most exuberant and playful dolphins, traveling in groups of 70 or more, appearing from nowhere to surround the boat and play. Risso Dolphins are more shy, 8 – 12 feet long, grey in colour with scar like markings.
We also have rare sightings of Sunfish which appear almost spherical and use a vertical fin in moving through the water. If a boat gets close they sink from view, then appear again when it moves off.
Between Iona and Staffa Minke Whales, also plankton feeders, visit from late June onwards. Orca (Killer Whales) and Pilot Whales migrate past and may stay for a day or two. In August 2009 there was great excitement when a young Humpback Whale suddenly appeared in Iona sound and fed for an hour before moving on. There was an abundance of sandeels at the time – like sieving sandeel soup!
Basking Sharks have been increasing in number and can appear in Iona sound in July and August. Also known as Sailfish they grow up to 6 metres long and have a characteristic large dorsal fin (sail) which appears above the water as they circle slowly. They will come close to boats and it is possible to see the large open hanging mouth, taking in water to sieve the plankton.
The Seals tend to lie up on offshore rocks, but they fish along the shore and will come quite close in Port Ban, and at the north end, to watch people swimming there. We have the smaller Common Seal which pups in June, and the Grey or Atlantic Seal which is larger with a big 'Roman' nose. They pup at the end of September, and their pups have the famous white fur.
The island’s Otters swim along the shore, playing and fishing, sometimes landing on a rock to subdue and fillet a larger fish. They can pass at any time of the day, but they are still cautious creatures and can never be seen by appointment.