New Quay harbour has been a hub of activity in the last few weeks with dolphins coming in close to shore, socialising, leaping and feeding close to the land and leaving little need to step foot on the boat- which is good as the weather conditions have not been favourable for boat based surveying. Some of our adoptable dolphins such as Chris and Smoothy have been regularly sighted close to New Quay pier, resting and sometimes feeding. We have also had a number of sightings of groups of juveniles banding together and socialising slightly further offshore, while the adults feed and rest closer in.
Weather allowing, our dedicated interns have, as every season, spent a large proportion of their time out on the pier recording dolphins and speaking to visitors to New Quay but when there are large numbers of dolphins and only one of them, it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes so we nip down from the office and give them a hand, usually by conducting photo-identification while they record data and explain to the lucky visitors what is happening and where the dolphins are. Luckily our spectacular office view makes spotting dolphins easy even if we are not “on watch” and if we miss them and the dolphins come close, the person on watch always has a walkie talkie on them to call for help.
This week, a call for help resulted in a very exciting sighting. Our intern, Sean, called in alerting us to the presence of spectacularly leaping dolphins near the fish factory. I hurried out, keen to photograph the spectacular leaps, but mainly hoping for some photo-identification shots. Once I arrived at the fish factory, the excitement had died down a bit but I quickly spotted 5-6 dolphins, probably 3-4 adults and 2 juveniles, feeding intensely while being closely followed by a flock of gulls. And suddenly there was a flash of cream before I saw a tiny fluke disappear under the water. A very young calf, tiny compared to the adults around it, was eagerly trying to keep up with its mum and attempted a leap of its own. Judging by its size and the prominent stripes on its side, this was a very young animal, probably born this season. The group continued to feed for a while and I was able to observe it close hand. Its mum seemed quite relaxed and the calf wandered off on its own a few times, making exploratory leaps and on one occasion, swimming on its back- clearly this whole swimming business was still a novelty!
Unfortunately most of the individuals in the groups were poorly marked or ‘clean’ meaning their fins are not distinctive enough to identify them easily, so we were unable to identify the mother of the new addition to the Cardigan Bay population at this point. It is likely that most of the adults in the group were females, based on the presence of the juveniles. At one point three animals surfaced in a row, all looking to be of different sizes which made it look like 3 generations of dolphins, grandma, young mum and calf, grandma maybe helping her unexperienced daughter with the new arrival- but that would of course be unacceptable conjecture from a scientific point of view! That being said, it is not uncommon for female dolphins to continue to associate with their mothers , even once they have gained their independence, so maybe it’s not that far -fetched after all!
by Katrin Lohrengel, Sea Watch Foundation’s Monitoring Officer.