Dolphins, whales and seals are cute and for some reason they seem to know that we know. In my opinion, our squeals and squeaks of excitement when we see them have successfully passed all communication barriers.http://www.bbc.co.uk/
Pictures like this can make us think that they are approachable or friendly, but they are wild species, cute as a button, yes, but wild! If you think that you would try to pet a seal pup like this one, please think first. Its big, may be angry and with sharp teeth. Mum, may be close and not very happy with your presence, that this pup may be rejected by its mum if you touch him and if this was not a good enough reason, search “seal finger” on the internet.
All these animals are often very curious about humans being in their environment and they may approach our boats, pose for us for a while and then disappear as fast as they appeared, if not faster. So, what’s the point of so much cuteness if I cannot touch them or get closer to them? Someone may ask. My answer to that is: boundaries? Personal space? Being polite? In addition to draw attention to the species, cuteness is a very important factor when it comes to protection and conservation efforts. Whales and dolphins are considered “charismatic mega-vertebrates” which are interesting animals to the public, that act as flagship species driving conservation efforts that can also benefit other species and their habitat.Bottlenose Dolphin – Photograph by Jonathan Evans – Dolphin Spotting Trips
In Cardigan Bay there four animal species and three habitats that have been identified as being of European importance within the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation! Although this area is mainly known for having one of the largest populations of bottlenose dolphins in Europe!
Besides the bottlenose dolphins and the grey seals (we have an average of 66 pups every year in the area!) there are river and sea lampreys. Lampreys are an ancient type of fish with a toothed funnel-like sucking mouth instead of having jaws. Although lampreys are not distinctly threatened yet, their populations have declined over the last decades due to pollution, river engineering and obstacles in the rivers such as weirs or dams.
The reefs, sandbanks and caves are also a highlight of the area! The reefs are both rocky and biogenic, created by honeycomb worms. The sandbanks are important for the role they play in the food web and the structural integrity of the surrounding habitats, these sandbanks hold a great variety of animals including the nationally rare mantis shrimp Rissoides desmaresti which can be also found in a few isolated places in South England.
The numerous sea caves in the area provide a shelter during pupping season for seals but they are colonised for other organisms of conservation interest such as the algae Naccaria wiggii, the small ear-shaped snail Otina ovata and the spider Meta menardi which is among the largest spiders in the UK but since they live in total darkness they often go unnoticed!
These species and habitats may not be as amazing and captivating as seeing the dolphins play in the bay but all of them have an important role for the ecosystem! Areas like this one aim to halt the loss of biodiversity and the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation, is quite an example.
For more information about what you can find in the area please visit http://www.cardiganbaysac.org.uk/
Written by: Marta Gill Molinero, Sea Watch Foundation Intern 2016