After what seemed like a mini-monsoon season last week, the sun has returned, and wind has dropped so what better excuse to get out on the open sea and look for some porpoises and dolphins?! This week (28th July to 5th August) is National Whale and Dolphin Watch (NWDW) week, which is an annual event organised and run by charity Sea Watch Foundation with the aim of encouraging volunteers across the UK to head to the coast and conduct dedicated watches to look for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Sightings of cetaceans are collected by watchers and this data contributes to a nationwide database of cetacean distribution, which enables Sea Watch Foundation to get a better understanding of how different cetaceans use our UK coastlines. As part of NWDW, Gower Coast Adventures organised a dedicated porpoise and dolphin spotting trip on the 4th August for members of the public, and I was kindly invited along to collect data for Sea Watch Foundation.
Being a Regional Coordinator for Sea Watch Foundation has given me the opportunity to take part in many fantastic trips and events, but my favourite is most definitely collecting data aboard the ‘Sea Serpent’ with Dave, Lizzie and enthused members of the public, and boy, today this trip did not disappoint! Turning up at Oxwich Bay in the morning and seeing the sea in a gorgeously calm state filled me with a mix of relief and excitement for the trip ahead. After a quick briefing by skipper Dave, I had a chat with fellow boat-trippers about how to collect the effort and sightings data and gave them tips as to what to look out for to maximise chances of spotting some cetaceans during the survey.
The survey started with porpoises as the warm-up act; we passed an individual as we were leaving Oxwich Bay and then not 10 minutes later spotted another further South. We drifted in the boat watching the porpoise pop up in-between the waves as Lizzie gave some information to the watchers about porpoise in the area. As we left the company of the porpoise, we headed toward the Helwick sandbank, where short-beaked common dolphins are known to hangout and share a fish meal or two, and just like magic the gannets lead the way and we spotted a group of four common dolphins feeding at the east-end of the sandbank. This group consisted of three adults and a younger juvenile, identified by its smaller size in comparison to the other animals. After a sleepy bowride, these animals went back to finishing their breakfast and we pushed on to the west. We were treated to another two common dolphin encounters, the third being the most special. We were joined by a group of 8 animals, one of which was a calf, identifiable by foetal folds (vertical lines down side of animal); this group was very active and spent a lot of time bowriding and whistling as they passed between the sides of the boat. The dolphins slowed down and came level with the boat, which gave us a great opportunity to take pictures of the dorsal fins, which we can use to identify different individuals just as fingerprints can distinguish people apart from one another. After a quick photoshoot, the dolphins headed off towards Worm’s Head, leaving all passengers and crew elated after the fantastic encounter. To finish off the trip, a porpoise mother and calf leapt out of the water right next to the boat as we passed Port Eynon, which a lucky few passengers got to witness; this is quite rare behaviour in porpoises as they are usually very shy animals which do not often display aerial behaviours especially when with young calves, which made this sighting even more special.
We had a total of 7 sightings for our 3-hour trip, which is all very valuable data which will go towards helping protect and conserve the cetaceans around the Gower, to ensure they are still here for many years come. I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to Dave and Lizzie for offering me a place on this trip and for continuing to support Sea Watch Foundation with yearly data collection and offering your time, energy and passion for NWDW; your efforts and kindness is greatly appreciated.
If anyone is looking for a responsible, fun and informative boat trip around the Gower, I could not recommend Gower Coast Adventures more!
Thanks again Dave and Lizzie.