Cardigan Bay Monitoring Project – The Blog

NEW QUAY National Whale and Dolphin Watch Events

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For more information on all these fantastic activities contact Meg from Sea Watch on or call on 01545561227 – See you at the sea side!

A new kid on the block

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.

20140204_122632The stunning view from our office. Here we have blue winter skies taken by our Sightings Officer, Kathy James.

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!

The first glimpse of our new Cardigan Bay youngster by Katrin Lohrengel.

The first glimpse of our new Cardigan Bay youngster by Katrin Lohrengel.

Another shot from  different sighting - the same individual? As we follow the fortunes of the population we'll be able to tell.

Another shot from different sighting – the same individual? As we follow the fortunes of the population we’ll be able to tell.

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!

The Sea Watch Foundation team will try to keep a close eye on this new addition whilst they survey the bottlenose dolphins of the region. Photo by Katrin Lohrengel.

The Sea Watch Foundation team will try to keep a close eye on this new addition whilst they survey the bottlenose dolphins of the region. Photo by Katrin Lohrengel.

by Katrin Lohrengel, Sea Watch Foundation’s Monitoring Officer.

Something’s fishy!

We have been fairly lucky with the weather here the past week or so and we’ve had some lovely sunny days – great dolphin spotting weather! So last week was the first chance that I’ve had to practice with the pier watch equipment whilst there have been dolphins close to the harbour wall. I am relatively new to using DSLR camera equipment but am familiar with all the various settings but this was a whole new experience as I have not had much practice with manual focus. It is hard enough to get decent photos of such a mobile animal when you have a fast autofocus let alone when you have to use manual. As you can see below I have some room to improve!

(C) Louise Russell, Sea Watch Foundation

This particular mother and calf pair were spotted at 15:50 about 100m from New Quay pier. They were in the area for around 45 minutes and were displaying feeding behaviour. Feeding behaviour often involves swimming in various directions, some splashes and long dives as well as the occasional leap or tail slap among other behaviours.

(C) Louise Russell, Sea Watch Foundation

There were certainly lots of fish around to attract the dolphins along with the abundant local sea bird population. Several schools of fish were seen jumping over the surface of the water and some were washed onto the rocks by the waves. As you can imagine it was something of an all you can buffet for the seagulls

(C) Louise Russell, Sea Watch Foundation

The mother and calf stayed a fair bit out from the pier for a while so to practice with the manual focus and moving animals I tried taking some shots of flying birds which I think worked out well for a beginner with the digiscope.

(C) Louise Russell, Sea Watch Foundation

(C) Louise Russell, Sea Watch Foundation

The photo below shows what can be achieved when you have a bit more practice with the digiscope and when the dolphins come in closer

(C) John Pye, Sea Watch Foundation

By Louise Russell


How high can a dolphin leap?


Tuesday saw some real aerial acrobatics from the dolphins of Cardigan Bay starting with a mother and calf putting on a show for the tour boats. A solid ten minutes of half body breaches and full on leaps in the early evening off the fish factory made the last few trips of the day something to remember. If that wasn’t enough an hour later a group of no less than 6 adult bottlenoses dolphins put in an appearance at the same spot and proceeded to leap spectacularly into the air, one explosive jump reaching over 2 meters out of the water. Leaping by dolphins is thought to be an energy saving tool while fast swimming but may also be part of social interaction or simply having fun.  Bottlenose dolphins can breach up to 4.9 meters into the air and spinner dolphins have been seen to breach up to 5.4 meters

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By John Ball

Exciting day on the Pier!

Yesterday was a very eventful day on the pier here in New Quay. The morning weather was grey and rainy and the fog laid thick across the horizon, but the dolphins didn´t seem to mind. A group of four dolphins where leaping and swimming in circles just by the cardinal buoy outside New Quay Harbour. They were feeding using a technique called herding where a group of dolphins will surround a school of fish to pack them as tightly as possible. When they have succeeded they will take turns feeding on the school. Above the water you can usually only see the dolphins swimming back and forth splashing around.

(C) Emilia Benavente/Sea Watch Foundation

(C) Emilia Benavente/Sea Watch Foundation

We could identify two of the dolphins with our photo-identification catalogue. One was Bond, one of our adoptable dolphins and the other one was Lumpy, the calf to Smoothy (another adoptable dolphin) that was born in 2006. The other dolphins in this encounter didn´t have marked dorsal fins so we cannot identify them.

8 year old dolphin Lumpy. (C) Emilia Benavente/Sea Watch Foundation

8 year old dolphin Lumpy.
(C) Emilia Benavente/Sea Watch Foundation


Shot of Baileys

Last week i took our new intern James Bailey out to the pier so he could try his magic on the Pier Watch camera. James is a camera man of some repute and has been taking pictures since the age of 6. Since starting at Sea Watch he has managed to capture some great pictures for Photo ID from the boat and i was hoping he would recreate this form down on the pier.


James Bailey

After setting up the equipment, we waited patiently for what seem an eternity until two dolphins finally showed up. We spotted a mother and a calf out by the cardinal buoy, unfortunately out of range for Photo ID  but James and I still managed to get some nice shots of the pair.


(c) SWF/James Bailey/ John Pye


(c) SWF/ John Pye/ James Bailey


(c) SWF, James Bailey, John Pye

True to form Bailey managed to get some great shots, lets hope next time the dolphins come a little closer in!