Into the Deep
The windy August weather made sea watching a difficult enterprise for most of the month, with dedicated surveys being few and far between. Luckily with September came calmer seas and a unique opportunity to venture out to sea once more!
As part of a new ITV documentary, the Big Wave Productions team allowed our Wales Development Officer to accompany them on a filming trip into the Celtic Deep to document the unique wildlife found off the Pembrokeshire Coast. Read on to find out more!
Setting off from Milford Haven, we spent 4 days at sea onboard the Ladykate; exploring some of Pembrokeshire’s best coastal wildlife sites such as the gannets of Grassholm Island before venturing out into the Celtic Deep in search of bigger fish to fry.
The first marine mammal sighting of the trip was a grey seal, bobbing alongside the Ladykate as we passed Dale but he was only the first of many!
As Grassholm appeared in the distance, white-capped with gannets, the first “Dolphins!” shout had everyone running to the bow. 8 short-beaked common dolphins, including 2 very young calves, swung by our bow and accompanied us for a while before turning off and continuing on their way.
The air traffic grew increasingly heavy as we approached Grassholm, large groups of gannets treating us to close fly-bys and aerial manoeuvres, and what initially looked like white icing on a distant rock, soon began to look more and more animated until individual gannets preening on the stained rocks became visible. Luckily we were downwind or we might have not only been able to see and hear the colony but also smell them! In the midst of all this, a large splash hinted at the presence of another cetacean and the fleeting glimpse of a tall, greyish dorsal fin suggested it was not common dolphins this time!As we passed Grassholm, our suspicion was confirmed by another spectacular breach: Risso’s dolphins!
Unfortunately we only had a fleeting glimpse before we headed further out towards the Smalls lighthouse so that the team could use the last remaining hours of daylight to get some footage of grey seals.
We reached the Smalls, a lighthouse with a spooky reputation, as the sun was getting low in the sky. The dive team headed out towards the island on a rib, while the rest of us stayed put on the Ladykate and it felt as if we had parked on a marine mammal highway! Several groups of common dolphins passed us, quickly losing interest when they realised we were not going fast enough to bowride and seals passed the boat on a regular basis on their way back to their haul out. We were also treated to another encounter with two Risso’s dolphins, which kept their distance from the boat but put on a good display, breaching and leaping clear of the water.
Just as the dive team returned and the sun began to dip under the horizon, rendering observations difficult, we had a last sighting of five common dolphins, appearing in the sunset and joining us for a short ride. No better end to a long day of surveying!
If you want to read more about Katrin’s trip to the Celtic Deep and hear about more exciting sightings, both cetacean and otherwise, stay tuned for part two of this blog!
Interested in getting involved in Sea Watch in Wales? Check out the Welsh Sea Watchers Project and find out more about how you can get involved in cetacean conservation!