Getting up at 5:30 am isn’t everyone’s idea of a good morning, but with the promise of an upcoming dolphin survey I was up and out the door quicker than anyone could say “coffee?”. I’ve been here in New Quay for five and half months, and whilst I’m no stranger to boat trips (a local company, “Dolphin Spotting Boat Trips”, regularly allow us to collect casual data from their tourist vessels), I was especially excited on this early morning to board a different boat with another company (“Bay to Remember”) based down in Cardigan.
Earlier this season, funding from Sea Changers enabled Sea Watch to opportunistically place a trained staff member on Bay Explorer, the rib operated by Bay to Remember, in order to obtain high quality dorsal fin pictures for photo-identification whilst subsequently allowing us to extend our survey effort beyond the New Quay area. All summer I longed for the chance to go on Bay Explorer, and finally at the end of August I got my opportunity….which leads us back to that early morning. At 7.30, after the standard health and safety briefing, and having been kitted up with life jackets, our rib headed out into the slightly choppy waters of Cardigan Bay. The rib, Bay Explorer, goes fast…like really fast, but we weren’t on the move for too long, as within about 10 minutes we’d stopped for our first sighting; several grey seals and a fulmar nest (complete with tiny chick). Whilst the aim of my trip was obviously to spot and photograph bottlenose dolphins, I wasn’t going to complain about seeing some of the other animals that reside in this part of the world.Me and Gemma excited to go on survey Photo credit: Laura Bartlett/Sea Watch Foundation
We cruised around for a little while longer, eyes peeled for any sign of dolphin activity, then suddenly we saw one swimming by! I’ve seen plenty of dolphins before, but usually most of my observing is conducted from a higher vantage point (such as the roof of a boat), so getting the chance to see this dolphin from a more level setting was a wonderful experience, and also made it a little easier to get some good fin shots for photo-id. It didn’t end there, soon after we moved away we spotted three more dolphins; an adult, a juvenile, and a new born calf. I was especially excited about the new born calf, as had we not been on that boat, on that day, it’s possible that its mother might not have come into the New Quay area for several weeks and we wouldn’t have known of existence till then! Our sightings were rounded off with two adults, who initially seemed interested in us, but then decided food was more interesting.A perfect dorsal fin shot for photo identification Photo Credit: Laura Bartlett/Sea Watch Foundation
Because Sea Watch has a scientific licence to approach dolphins we were able to spend a bit more time with them than usual (usually boat operators can spend a maximum of 10 minutes within 300 metres of a dolphin). This was good in two ways; one- it gave me and my colleague more time to get pictures of dorsal fins that we could use for photo-identification (a crucial part of our research), and two- it gave me more of an opportunity to engage and interact with the other passengers on board. One of the nice things about Bay Explorer is that me and my colleague were embedded within the paying passengers, making it easier for them to ask questions and for us to teach them about some of the work we do in Cardigan Bay. Naturally people had a lot of questions about the newborn, but there was also a lot of interest in why we do what we do and how it has contributed to the overall understanding of bottlenose dolphins in the area. I think it’s always easier to educate and motivate people when they are actually able to see the animal(s) and issues you are talking about, and fortunately Sea Watch and dolphins are two of my favourite topics to talk about!Two dolphins from a previous Bay to Remember trip Photo Credit: Steph Byford/ Sea Watch Foundation
Eventually, our time at sea had to come to an end, and we were whisked back to shore, where I had to recover from all the excitement before heading back to the office to start looking through the pictures. I can’t wait for the chance to go again!!!!
Written by Laura Bartlett, Research Assistant 2017