After the excitement of National Whale and Dolphin Watch week (thanks to everyone for logging their sightings so far – keep them coming in!), things normally quietened down in the New Quay offices but with the return of some good weather, boat surveys have been back on!
Boat surveys play a vital part in the research conducted at Sea Watch allowing us to collect accurate data on group composition, location, behaviour, photo-id and acoustics. Recently for example, a boat survey in Liverpool Bay recorded individuals often seen the Cardigan Bay area so we have more information on their migration patterns as well.
A normal survey will start fairly early in the morning and once we’re off someone will have their eyes on the sea at all times. There are two primary observers, two independent observers and someone recording effort (i.e. sea state, number of boats present, glare etc.). Despite all this however we saw very little on Tuesday and Wednesday, which goes to show how difficult finding marine mammals can be!
We did encounter one of the newest calfs in New Quay however, giving us a good chance at trying to ID it’s mother. Bond, one of our recurring resident males also made an appearance very close to New Quay. Once dolphins are spotted the whole atmosphere on survey changes as everyone goes from search mode to more specific jobs including photo ID, hydrophone and tracking other dolphins in the area. Under the Marine Code of Conduct boats are not allowed to actively approach dolphins so one of the first jobs is to get the photo-ID flag up indicating that Sea Watch has permission to approach the animals.
As with all field-work, surveys are completely weather dependent. So on top of the dolphins playing a game of hide and seek (literally!), the weather picked up in the early afternoon of our second survey day. This can make standing on a boat and staring out to sea quite tricky so for practical reasons the survey was called to an end early. Despite all this any data collected is always useful and fingers crossed that next time we will have some more exciting sightings to report.