Cardigan Bay Monitoring Project – The Blog

A splash, bubble and a fin!

A splash, a bubble and a fin and another, oh it’s a mother and her calf again, dancing around the boats.

I arrived on the pier just before twelve on the 1st of July and was treated to a spectacular sight; a mother and calf pair were happily socialising in the harbour area, casually surfacing in between the moored boats. Many curious members of the public watched on from the pier and boats alike. Both cameras and binoculars were out to steal a sight and a memory of these fantastic creatures and such a treat to have them so close! The mother didn’t seem too fazed by the numerous vessels encircling around the pair, which included a range of dolphin tour boats, yachts, kayaks and speedboats. However, when a swimmer got a little bit too close she did what any sensible mother would; veered off to give the swimmer a wide birth and undertook a series of long dives, until the pair eventually popped up on the other side of the pier. The pair then proceeded to play around a big orange buoy for approximately five minutes. However, as with all good things the encounter came to an end when the mother and calf pair decided to undertake a series of long dives and exited the area via the headland as the sea state increased along with the concentration of vessels.

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A selection of mother and calf pairs photographed from the pier in New Quay over the past few months.

A selection of mother and calf pairs photographed from the pier in New Quay over the past few months.

So why am I here watching these dolphins? Well I’m a masters student studying at Bangor University, currently collecting data for my thesis. The main aim of my research is to see if dolphins change their behaviour in response to vessel presence and activity. I will also be monitoring to see if dolphins behave differently to different types of vessel and try to determine the cause of each response. For example, a dolphin may respond negatively to kayaks but respond in a positive manor to tour boats and cetacean research vessels. Cardigan Bay is a great place to carry out this research as it has a semi-resident bottlenose dolphin population which can be easily seen at New Quay for the the majority of the summer. It is believed that the semi-resident population have become used to particular boats, while the dolphins which only occasionally visit the bay are not and may respond more negatively to vessels. My task is to see if this is the case!

Tess Hudson

Student at Bangor University



Acrobatic dolphins galore!

The ‘Pier Watch’ on 16th June was a little unusual, in that the equipment was taken up the cliff above the Shellfish Factory here in New Quay. Here, Tess one of our visiting masters students from Bangor University was stationed to collect data for her project and managed to capture some fantastic images of bottlenose dolphins!

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Assisted by Cateline, Tess spotted a group of three bottlenose dolphins, including one calf, with two individuals close by. These quickly joined the others, with the group periodically dispersing and coming back together. They displayed a range of spectacular behaviours including several breaches, flips, spy-hopping and suspected feeding behaviours. A very dramatic and exciting display!

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Luckily one of the tourist boats from our friends Dolphin Spotting Trips happened to enter the scene during this incredible display. One of our Interns, Toby was onboard collecting data at the time. He also managed to get some fantastic shots of these spectacular behaviours which, combined with the digiscope images, allowed us to confirm identification of some of the individual dolphins. We can confirm that one of the dolphins was Bond, one of our adoptable dolphins, a very regular visitor to New Quay this season!

Bond's Distinctive Dorsal Fin

Bond’s Distinctive Dorsal Fin

It was fantastic to get such amazing pictures from our equipment, and great to have more evidence of some of our adoptable dolphins being active in the area. Once again we must thank the residents of New Quay for supporting us in making this project possible and Environment Wales for providing the majority of the funding.

Please adopt one of our magnificent dolphins to help us continue our work in protecting and monitoring these incredible animals. Visit to become an adoptee and to receive lots of goodies as a thank you!


Imogen Cavadino & Cateline Landry

Sea Watch Foundation Interns


Note: All photos (c) Sea Watch Foundation/Cateline Landry/Tess Hudson

An exciting day out on the pier!

I have been a Sea Watch intern for five weeks now and I’ve grown to realise that you never know what your day will be like. Some days can have little to no dolphin sightings, but other days you can be treated to many wonderful encounters. Saturday 17th May was one of those days!

It looked like it was going to be a fairly routine Saturday Pier Watch and land watch for Emilia and I, but one look out the window and a quick check of the forecast told us that the weather was going to be nice and sunny. As we were getting ready to leave, Emilia received a call from Toby (who was just about to go on a boat trip) saying that a mother and calf had been spotted close to the pier. Without hesitation, Emilia grabbed all her things and rushed down to the office to get the camera and other land watch equipment.

We arrived on the pier around 11:00 where there were about 30 people crowded at the far end trying to catch a glimpse of the dolphin pair. Seeing the dolphins surface we realised that there were in fact 3 dolphins in the harbour: one mother and calf pair, with one juvenile.

The mother and calf pair near the pier

The mother and calf pair near the pier

We got some wonderful photos, but we were unable to ID this pair due to their dorsal fins being clean; having no noticeable notches or permanent marks to distinguish them. Nevertheless it was a lovely sight and great to hear people enjoy seeing the young calf so close to the pier.

There was a lot of boat activity in the bay, which was hardly surprising as it was a Saturday and the weather was fabulous. At about 11:30 the RNLI lifeboat people came out in their RIB and they were soon followed by the big rescue boat, in preparation for a helicopter drill advertised on the blackboard outside the launch station. This soon diverted most peoples attention away from the dolphins, as the drill was very exciting to watch.

The mother-calf pair stayed around in the bay for about an hour before heading out towards the stone reef and cardinal buoy, where they remained until  we finished our watches at 17:00. But the excitement wasn’t to end there! We had many other dolphin sightings as the day went on, giving us lots of great data to use. We were also treated to an inquisitive female grey seal taking a curious look right in front of us.

At around 14:00 another lone adult bottlenose dolphin appeared about 100m from the pier, seemingly out of nowhere. From the photos we took this dolphin was later identified as Bond, one of our adoptable dolphins. He gradually made his way right around the pier toward the moored boats in the harbour.

meet Bond!

meet Bond!

Here in New Quay we have a Marine Code of Conduct which applies to all recreational vessels, to try and minimise the disruption or harm they can cause to our marine mammals. There is no reason why boats and dolphins should not be able to coexist if boat users follow this code. Unfortunately in this case we had an instance of poor boating etiquette, with two RIBs passing straight over the dolphin’s location, seemingly oblivious to its presence. Luckily Bond was unharmed and remained in the harbour for a while.

When we thought we had seen plenty of action around the pier for one day, next came the icing on the cake. At around 14:45 a group of around 4-5 adults appeared north of our position and everyone on the pier was treated to some memorable acrobatics and leaping behaviour. There were lots of excited people on the pier, some exclaiming “Wow I didn’t know dolphins could do that!”. It’s always amazing to see dolphins being so acrobatic, but to see it on a day with perfect visibility and lots of other people around in the pier to witness the show makes the experience even more incredible.

Some acrobatic dolphins

Some acrobatic dolphins

Dolphin activity eventually began to peter out at around 15:30 and it gave some relief to Emilia and I who had had so much action to record for that day! All in all it was a lovely sunny day that was capped off by some great dolphin encounters. I’m sure the people who were witness to this natural show have gained a deeper appreciation of the Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphin population.

Kiran Bhandari

Sea Watch Intern

Excitement on the pier!

Yesterday morning at around 10am Sea Watch Research Assistant Emilia Benavente spotted one of New Quay’s most frequently visiting female dolphins swimming about 10m from the pier. At first it just appeared as though this dolphin, known by locals and Sea Watch staff as “Smoothy” was just milling around like any other dolphin would be early in the morning and it seemed like there was nothing out of the ordinary about this encounter.


The surfacing dorsal fin of one of Sea Watch’s most beloved dolphins known as “Smoothy”

The surfacing dorsal fin of one of Sea Watch’s most beloved dolphins known as “Smoothy”

However, closer inspection revealed that Smoothy was not alone and in fact she had a companion with her. The companion  turned out to be a calf, indicating that Smoothy’s calf from last year is still with us!

A sneak peek at our newest arrival in Cardigan Bay.

A sneak peek at our young calf in Cardigan Bay.

Notice the light colouration of this young bottlenose dolphin compared to it's mother.

Notice the light colouration of this young bottlenose dolphin compared to it’s mother.

Calf mortality is high in the first three years of life, but this is the third time that Smoothy has had a calf so we’re hoping she knows the drill by now.  We’re thrilled that Smoothy’s calf is going from strength to strength and that Smoothy is happy to bring her youngster right up to the pier.

Smoothy is one of the dolphins in our Adopt A Dolphinn scheme and we can’t wait to share the good news of this sighting with our  adoptees!

Onlookers were certainly excited to see Smoothy and her new arrival close to the shore and Smoothy didn’t seem to be too fazed by all the attention as the pair stayed around the pier for a good 17 minutes.

The excitement doesn’t end there! A mother and calf pair was also spotted during the 11am-1pm landwatch, frolicking and leaping out of the water and this time the youngster had very visible foetal folds indicating that it was a new born calf!

These pictures were taken using our Pier Watch equipment from the pier in New Quay.

These pictures were taken using our Pier Watch equipment from the pier in New Quay.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the pair if you visit New Quay!

Be sure to keep an eye out for the pair if you visit New Quay!

Sea Watch staff and interns will be trying to identify the mother of this new born calf and will let you know when we do! We also very much look forward to seeing more adorable dolphin calves as the season progresses and will share our stories with you.

To adopt a Cardigan Bay dolphin and support the work of Sea Watch please visit: Adopt A Dolphin.

The Launch of Pier Watch 2014

Friday 25th April 2014 saw the launch of our new Pier Watch project. This took place at New Quay Yacht Club and was well attended by people from the local community, including our local MP Mark Williams and Geraint Hughes from Environment Wales.

Geraint Hughes from Environment Wales

Geraint Hughes from Environment Wales

After an introduction from Mr Williams, Mr Hughes and our Sightings Officer Kathy James, everyone was invited to join us out on the pier to have a go with the digiscope. Unfortunately no dolphins were around at the time, but there was still plenty of bird life to test the equipment out with.

MP Mark Williams being shown how to use the digiscope

MP Mark Williams being shown how to use the digiscope

It’s thanks to the support of the local community that we were able to gain funding for the digiscope and launch the new project. We are especially grateful to the friends and family of Dave Bennett, who clubbed together to raise funds for Sea Watch. Dave, along with his wife Delyth, was a keen supporter of the Sea Watch Foundation and we dedicate this project to his memory. On Wednesday 23rd April our staff and interns joined Delyth and her family for the official unveiling of the equipment.

Delyth cutting the ribbon on our Digiscope

Delyth cutting the ribbon on our Digiscope

They also got a chance to test out the digiscope for themselves, though the damp weather meant we had to use it indoors. We also unveiled our new Pier Watch jackets, dedicated to Dave.

Our staff, interns and Dave's family viewing the equipment and jackets.

Our staff, interns and Dave’s family viewing the equipment and jackets.

This equipment is important as it can provide us with high quality photos of the bottlenose dolphins and increases our ability to recognise the known individuals in Cardigan Bay that come in close to New Quay Pier. It’s also a fantastic way to get the public involved, so you can come and experience for yourselves how photo ID works.

Once again we must thank everyone in the local community for their support, as it’s thanks to you that we were able to gain the funding for this project to go ahead.

Everyone having a go with the Digiscope out on the pier

A family having a go with the digiscope out on the pier

Come and join us on New Quay Pier during the afternoons this summer to have a go with the digiscope yourself and join us in taking photos of the dolphins. Also keep checking back at this blog for future updates and information on what we have seen.

A Sneak Peek at Our New Digiscope

We were delighted to have a visit from one of our proud Dolphin Adoptee’s Emily on her birthday. She had traveled with her family all the way from North Devon to visit our offices in New Quay, and was rewarded with a sneak peek at our new Pierwatch Digiscope.

Sightings Officer Kathy, Emily & the digiscope.

Sightings Officer Kathy, Emily & the digiscope.

Emily has been a fantastic supporter of Sea Watch for several years. In January 2013 she organised a Beach Clean at Crow Point. Not only did she raise over £200 for Sea Watch, but she also cleared lots of litter from our beaches to prevent it from entering our seas and our animals. This year she is continuing to support our Adopt-A-Dolphin Scheme by sponsoring Nic Nic, one of our regular visitors here in Cardigan Bay.

After a personal tour around our office and an explanation of the project, we took Emily and her family out on to New Quay pier to try out our Pierwatch Digiscope. The digiscope uses a special camera to take amazing quality photographs of dolphins from the land, allowing us to photo identify the dolphins we see from the pier.

Explaining the Digiscope

Explaining the Digiscope

Everyone had a great time looking through the Digiscope and learning more about our photo ID work. It was a delight to meet such an enthusiastic and interested young supporter of Sea Watch, and we look forward to hearing more from Emily soon.

Emily & her family on New Quay Pier

Emily & her family on New Quay Pier

Here at Sea Watch we are always pleased to meet our supporters, as it is thanks to them we have the funding and support for projects like these.

Come at see our new digiscope in action at the launch of our Pierwatch Project on Friday 22nd April at New Quay Yacht Club. Join us at 12.30pm for refreshments and an introduction to the project and its funders.


If you don’t support us all ready, why not adopt a dolphin of your own and help us continue to protect these beautiful animals:


Sea Watch Foundation