Cardigan Bay Monitoring Project – The Blog

Bottlenose dolphin calf spotted feeding from it’s mother close to land in New Quay, West Wales.

Sea Watch Foundation welcomes volunteers from all over the world to assist on their Cardigan Bay Monitoring Project throughout the summer months. The primary focus is to observe and document the bottlenose dolphins that are famed for using the bay, but other marine mammals such as harbour porpoise and grey seals are recorded too. This year’s volunteer Research Assistant, Sonia Doblado from Spain, was in for a big treat yesterday morning when she headed out for a routine survey.

The UK-wide research charity asks wildlife enthusiasts to sit by the coast dedicatedly searching the seas for any sign of a fin and the team in New Quay do the same from 7am right through to 9pm when the light and weather conditions allow. The early shift belonged to Sonia on Thursday 4th August and by the end of it, she was very glad to have dragged herself out of bed!


It’s not uncommon for the bay’s bottlenose dolphins to appear very close to the harbour wall in New Quay, but on this occasion six appeared seemingly out of nowhere and to Sonia’s astonishment one was a tiny new-born dolphin calf.  Bottlenose dolphins do use the sheltered waters of Cardigan Bay to have their young, so whilst this is not so remarkable itself, what thrilled Sonia even more was witnessing the youngster feeding from its mother! Dolphins, along with whales and porpoises (collectively termed cetaceans) are mammals which means they produce milk which they feed to their young. To witness this taking place was a spectacle indeed!

mom and belly

“I didn’t know where to look! There was so much happening all at the same time and I could not believe that I had the opportunity to witness a new-born calf being fed” Says Sonia, Research Assistant for the charity this summer.

Aside from the opportunity to see this special behaviour, there were also four other dolphins in the mix, including ‘Berry’ and her calf ’Pip’. Sea Watch are able to identify individual dolphins by photographing  their dorsal fins (on the animals’ backs). Over time, these build up nicks and notches which are unique to each animal, similar to a finger print in humans. Once an animal is photographed and identified its life history can be determined; which habitats does it prefer, which months is it seen, where does it travel to, how old is it, does it have any young? Pip was named last year by the public who took part in a naming competition both online and from the pier in New Quay. With three youngsters having been seen in the past couple of weeks, the foundation will be again offering the opportunity to name one of these youngsters. Follow the Sea Watch Foundation social media to keep abreast with news of the competition and updates from Cardigan Bay and beyond.

Using the photo-identification technique, the charity are able to offer an ‘Adopt A Dolphin’ scheme which offers adoptees the chance to follow the fortunes of real wild bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay. The charity is reliant on the scheme for funding so it directly helps the dolphins too.

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One of the new calves was spotted on a Sea Watch Foundation all day survey last Saturday (above). It’s mother was identified as ‘Trouble’ who has been followed by the team of researchers since 1989. Another calf was photographed by the staff on board Dolphin Spotting Boat Trips on Wednesday (pictured below), the researchers will work with the boat company to identify this individual’s mother to see just how many babies there are in the bay!

Jonathan Evans

Anyone interested in taking part in dolphin research for themselves should get in touch with the national charity as there are lots of opportunities to help out. Wherever you’re based there are opportunities to get out there and record cetacean activities so please do get in touch!


Follow Sea Watch Foundation on social media:

facebook seawatchfoundation  twitter@SeaWatchersUK  download seawatchfoundation


Find out about volunteering opportunities: &


Find out about Adopt A Dolphin:



Seal Pup Dolau Beach, New Quay

Julie started volunteering for Sea Watch this summer in New Quay and is now continuing to give us a helping hand from her base in Bristol. Thanks to Julie for this seal pup update from Dolau Beach before she left!


Hi fellow sea(l)watchers,

For anyone nearby, and anyone like me missing the sea right now, thought you might like to see a few snaps of our latest visitor.  This cutie was reported on Dolau Beach in New Quay on the 11th November and spent the day lazing around and having a good snooze, before finally wobbling down to the waters edge at 7am the next morning.  Interested locals and daytrippers joined me in my mega watch as I wanted to enjoy my last day of sealdom.  Passing dolphins and bright rainbows combined to make it an extra special day.


Atlantic Grey seals frequent the Ceredigion coastline, pupping from August onwards in the sea caves and mostly on isolated beaches.  Seal pups may appear to be abandoned but Mum is usually not far away, as was the case this time.  Seals very often haul out on beaches to rest and digest their food and this is perfectly normal behaviour.  Pups rely on their mother’s milk for the first 3-4 weeks which is more than 50% fat.  Once weaned, they will moult their fluffy white coats and eventually go out to sea to hunt.

Sadly seals on the beaches are sometimes disturbed by well meaning passers-by.  This can disturb their rest and can stop Mum coming back to feed the pup if there is an unfamiliar scent.  Seals also can give a very nasty bite, so for your sake and theirs please do not try to get any closer for that ‘selfie’ or try to ‘roll it back in’ as someone suggested!  Thanks to those people who saw the signs to ‘please stay off the beach and keep dogs under control’ and came to chat to find out more.  Aside from looking tired and a bit bedraggled as it was just in the process of moulting, this seal appeared fat and healthy (with no obvious signs of injury) so needed to be left alone.


Having been in New Quay this Summer working as a home volunteer for the Seawatch Foundation I have been fortunate to work alongside some amazing staff and volunteers and witness many beautiful wildlife spectacles – surveying dolphin pods and newborns on boat surveys, helping excited tourists see their first sightings from the harbour wall, and spotting seals and pups right on the doorstep.  For anyone considering such an opportunity I would highly recommend it! (Please check out the Seawatch website for further information about volunteering).

Love to everyone in New Quay x



If you would like to take Julie’s advice and volunteer with Sea Watch, please check out these options:

Watch for whales and dolphins around the UK

Home-based volunteering options

Internships in 2016

Who’s that dolphin?!


Vote for the name of a new member of the Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphin community!

We reported earlier in the year that the Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphin population welcomed various new-borns in 2015. As the new-borns grow they may enter our catalogue of recognisable dolphins and acquire a nick-name to go along with their catalogue code. One such youngster is the calf of our catalogued dolphin mother, Berry.

Berry with calf 2013 (2)

Berry’s calf keeping close to Mum

We’ve been photographing Berry since 2007 and her calf is now two years old. The pair are often seen with our adoptable dolphins, Smoothy, Chris and Bond.

In order to raise some vital funds for our Cardigan Bay Monitoring Project (and because it’s fun!) we asked you to pay £1 to have a go at naming Berry’s calf. We’ve whittled those entries down to just three and now we need your help again as we ask you to vote for your favourite! To vote, please visit our facebook page or comment on this post, stating your favourite option (final three names announced below).

Berry with calf 2013Berry with calf 2013 (3)

What shall we call Berry’s calf?

– Pip

– Cherry

– Mary


This is free and just-for-fun so please cast your vote!

The winning name will be the one with most votes (on our facebook page and our website) by midday on November 6th 2015.

Dolphins and whales are living in noisy waters

Written by Anna Pääkkönen BSc Hons Zoology, Sea Watch Foundation 2015 Research Intern.

The increasing noise pollution in our oceans is a major concern for marine mammals, specifically dolphins and whales who use their hearing as their primary sense to navigate, communicate and find food.

Sources of human made, or ‘anthropogenic’, noise underwater are for example; shipping, seismic surveys used in oil exploration and military based training, including sonar and explosives. Military sonar has been observed to be the biggest threat to dolphins and whales as the sound can seriously injure the animals’ hearing.

The US navy recently announced that they will limit the use of military sonar in their training to protect whales and dolphins. As a result of the limitations, the navy will not be using military sonar at all in certain established whale and dolphin habitats and migration routes. This is a huge success for many conservation groups demanding the limitation of naval acoustic disturbances, and of course the dolphins and whales themselves.

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Dolphins and whales use echolocation to find food, each other and to navigate. Photo credit National Geographic Creative.

So how is noise pollution in the seas harmful for cetaceans?

Cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – rely on their hearing as their primary sense for survival. To understand this, you need to understand how the animals’ hearing and echolocation works.

If you have seen any film with a submarine in it, you probably know the basics of how sonar works. A sound wave, or in the case of cetaceans a click, is emitted into the surroundings from the melon at the front of the cetacean’s head. The waves returning to the submarine, or the cetacean’s lower jaw, are translated into information about its surroundings. This helps the whale or dolphin navigate, find food and other whales and dolphins. For this reason any damage to the animals’ hearing can have very serious consequences.


Dolphins and whales use echolocation to find their prey. Photo credit Listening For Orcas.

How does underwater pollution harm cetaceans?

Underwater noise pollution can be harmful in several ways.

Firstly, a noisy environment can drown out the animals’ own sounds, making it harder for them to communicate, navigate and detect prey. The louder background noise can mean that the animals have to ‘shout’ to be heard, and the animals use more energy as a result. When you use more energy, you need more food. When finding food in the noisy environment is already harder, this puts the animals’ health under risk and this can affect its ability to carry and care for its young. In addition, as most of us can understand, a noisy environment can be very stressful.

Secondly, a sudden, loud noise (naval sonar, for example) can cause permanent damage to the animals’ hearing and can even be fatal. Deep diving species may change their diving pattern as a panic response to the noise, and this can cause the condition we know as decompression disease or ‘the bends’; when scuba divers surface too quickly and gases (mainly nitrogen) form bubbles in the blood. Dead cetaceans with this condition have been found following high volume military exercises in the area.


Different types of vessels that use sonar which could disrupt the natural echolocation used by dolphins and whales. Photo credit Collective Evolution.

Sometimes the panic from a sudden loud noise can also result in the animals fleeing towards land and stranding themselves. Mass strandings have been mostly observed in highly social species of beaked whales. The seriousness of the threat posed by naval training became apparent in 2000, when dolphins and whales of several species stranded on the beaches of the Bahamas. Examples of recent mass strandings in the UK include the mass stranding of 39 long-finned pilot whales in 2011 in Scotland and a group of common dolphins stranding on the shores of Cornwall in 2008. In both of these cases a government report later revealed that the likely reason for the mass stranding was naval underwater detonations.


Conservation groups and local volunteers try to keep a stranded long-finned pilot whale alive in Kyle of Durness, Scotland in May 2011. Photo credit: Donald Mitchell/Highland Council/ The Guardian

Could wind farms pose a threat to marine life?

Wind is a great form of energy to utilise and use as a form of renewable energy. Unfortunately, the building of wind farms in the sea is actually a source of a lot of noise, and therefore a threat to marine animals. The piling of wind turbines generates a loud sound which travels long distances in the water. The noise could therefore potentially drive animals away and result in them avoiding the previously favoured habitat.  On the positive side, some studies suggest that once built, the wind farms develop a reef around them and this may actually attract more marine wildlife.

Piling the foundations of wind farms creates a lot of underwater noise, and disturbs cetaceans and other marine life. Photo credit Bine Information Service.

What about other marine species?

Noise pollution also affects other marine species. Seals are affected in similar ways as cetaceans, as they also use their hearing for daily tasks and they may even be able to use echolocation to some extent. In addition, many species of fish have been observed to be negatively affected, and this of course directly affects cetaceans and seals that use fish as their primary food source.

What is being done to restrict the amount of noise pollution in the seas?

In addition to the limitations put in place by the US navy, luckily here in the UK there are some regulations and limitations in place already. These include regularly assessing possible cetacean habitats, ways of minimising impact on marine wildlife in Royal Navy’s basic training and increasing the intensity of sonar gradually so that the animals can begin to move away from the unpleasant sound. Furthermore, assessments of the impacts of different sources of noise to marine life and the identification of important cetacean habitats, breeding grounds and migration routes are done regularly.

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Short-beaked common dolphins chasing a school of fish. Photo credit Dmitry Miroshnikov/solent / 

Dependence on their hearing and echolocation is what makes cetaceans so vulnerable to human made noise pollution in the sea. Just like other kinds of pollution, looking into ways of reducing it, as well as monitoring populations and assessing how they are affected by the noise, is vital to conservation of cetaceans and other wildlife in our seas.


Dolphins Use Extra Energy To Communicate In Noisy Waters

Canadian Journal of Zoology: The impacts of anthropogenic ocean noise on cetaceans and implications for management

What Caused the UK’s Largest Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) Mass Stranding Event?

Navy sonar and cetaceans: Just how much does the gun need to smoke before we act?

UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme CSIP – MB0111. Annual Report 2011, Kyle of Durness mass stranding

Gas-bubble lesions in stranded cetaceans

Assessing noise impact of offshore wind farm construction may help protect marine mammals

Offshore wind farms benefit sealife, says study

Evidence that seals may use echolocation

A noisy spring: the impact of globally rising underwater sound levels on fish



A Night With Sea Watch

A Night with Sea Watch Poster

We would like to invite you to


The Sea Watch Foundation are a national charity dedicated to the conservation and research of marine mammals in British and Irish waters. The Cardigan Bay Monitoring Project is based in New Quay, Wales. It is responsible for the conservation management of the bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise and Atlantic grey seal populations of Cardigan Bay. Thanks to the work completed by the Cardigan Bay Monitoring Project we can raise awareness and gain an understanding of the marine mammals that exist here and the threats that they face.

A Night With Sea Watch Event details

Sunday 4th October 2015 

18:00 – 20:00

New Quay Memorial Hall

(Towyn Road, Penwig Fields, New Quay, Ceredigion SA45 9QQ)

No need to book just arrive roughly 15 minutes early. 

Refreshments will be available.


What’s in a name?

Written by Lana Turnbull, BSc (Hons) Animal Biology, SWF Research Intern 2015

Within the science research community it has long been known that giving an animal a human quality (a.k.a anthropomorphism) is a big no-no as it makes for bad science. Anthropomorphism can come in many forms such as emotions, behaviours and in the case of this blog post, names.

Here at Sea Watch we have seen a ‘few’ bottlenose dolphins pass through Cardigan Bay over the past two decades, well over 200 to be more precise and every one of these has been assigned a number (i.e. 025-046W) so we can catalogue their future movements and behaviours. However in some cases, where we see individuals on a regular basis within the bay they have acquired themselves a local name, for example Alfredo, Top Notch and even Gandalf!

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 14.46.55So why do we name the dolphins when the science community highly condemns it? 

Answering this question involves going off topic slightly (in terms of marine mammals). Earlier this year the death of Cecil the Lion sent the world into uproar. The man responsible for the lion’s downfall, Walter Palmer, was recently quoted as saying ‘If I had known this lion had a name…I wouldn’t have taken it’. He suggested that not the conservation status of the animal would have stopped him, but something as simple as a name would have.  His statement has since raised several questions over the importance of a name in the use of conservation. It got me thinking – is the use of a name more than identifying an individual or can it be used as a different approach to conservation?

For research purposes and for keeping our dolphin catalogue up to date, here at SWF the dolphins will first and foremost always be given a number, but if they become regularly sighted on our surveys then they may adopt a name.

Like many other marine research organisations, one of SWF’s aims is to encourage the public to get involved with the marine environment and increase their awareness. However to do this is sometimes harder than it sounds, especially when you’re telling them that dolphin 025_046W was spotted just down the bay. On the other hand when you tell them that Gandalf was seen leaping out of the water in the south of the bay people seem immediately more interested.

With a name such as 025_046W, it’s just a series of characters put together, whereas with a name such as Bond, it creates a character and with a character comes a story. Research has shown that we, as humans, have long been captivated by those who have things in common with us, and this can easily lead to compassion and understanding. This can quickly result in people wanting to become more involved with the conservation of a species.

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A name can evoke empathy in a person to the point where they want to help and contribute towards the problem which ultimately results in increased efforts which leads to the protection and conservation of a species.

At the end of the day, with or without a name, a dolphin is a dolphin, and nothing will change that. However the addition of a name we can possibly change perceptions and increase public involvement with our research. So as Shakespeare put it so simply, what’s in a name? More than an identity, apparently.




Whilst on the topic of names, we are currently running a competition where you can have the chance to name the calf of one of our regulars, Berry. The name will be used in our catalogues and in social media to monitor the calf’s behaviour in the future. Entry is only £1 and you can enter as many times as you like – however be quick as the closing date is the end of September!

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