Sea Watch are calling for added protection for areas where bottlenose dolphins in Wales are calving.
The call, follows the first-ever detailed study of the home ranges of mother and calf bottlenose dolphins in Welsh waters, and comes at a time when Sea Watch is likely to record the first new-borns of the season.
Results, presented for the first time at an international meeting of the European Cetacean Society (ECS) in Portugal this month, showed that several areas in Cardigan Bay are being used as calving grounds by the bottlenose dolphins – including an area around Anglesey where they receive no added protection.
In general, the study found that home ranges of bottlenose dolphins with calves tend to be smaller than those without.
Sea Watch’s Monitoring Officer Daphna Feingold, who, along with Research Director Dr Peter Evans, carried out the study said: ” Safe calving grounds are vitally important for cetaceans and should play an important role in conservation management plans. This research has identified important locations used by nursing bottlenose dolphins, which should now be granted additional protection from potential disturbance to help ensure the population remains stable and preferably increases.”
The study was based on data collected over six years in three key areas off the West Wales coast – Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau SAC, and around Anglesey. These areas are home to the largest semi-resident populations of bottlenose dolphins in the UK. The Two Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) provide some protection to the dolphins while the third area, off the north-east coast of the Isle of Anglesey provides very little added protection for bottlenose dolphins.
Daphna and the Sea Watch monitoring team are waiting in eager anticipation to record their first bottlenose dolphin calves of 2013. Although calves have been spotted as early as February in previous years, last year they had to wait until August before seeing them. Most calving takes place between April and September, with peak births in July & August.
Daphna said: ” In the last few years, we have had some evidence that dolphins are using Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation to a lesser extent, and that may be due to disturbance since boating has increased and has been shown to have a negative effect on the animals.”
The research on mother-calf home ranges was amongst ten presentations involving Sea Watch staff and students made at the ECS conference, which attracted almost 500 marine scientists from across Europe.