Funded by Environment Wales, the Pier Watch Project is based in New Quay, West Wales, home to the Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphins. Using a telephoto lens and a technique called photo-ID, Sea Watch Foundation staff and research interns can identify individual dolphins which use New Quay Bay and keep you updated on their daily activities.
Meet the locals…
For the past decade, Sea Watch Foundation has monitored the population of bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay. These animals are covered in Annexe II of the Habitats Directive and are one of only two resident populations of bottlenose in the whole of the UK. Through gaining knowledge and understanding of their status, numbers and distribution as well as the condition of their marine habitat, Sea Watch Foundation is able to alert government, industry and environmental organisations to any problems, and prompt practical measures to help protect the bottlenose dolphins from existing and impending threats.
The process of monitoring a population of animals has one main objective which is to detect any increase or decline in numbers. To do so, there are a number of techniques available; one of these is photo-ID. This method is made possible by the nicks, notches and scratches that bottlenose dolphins acquire on their dorsal fins throughout their lives making each dorsal fin unique and enabling scientists to recognise individual animals by taking photographs of their fins. Photo-ID images can provide us with information on abundance, assess population trends, define habitat use and loyalty to a site, define migration patterns, inform on social structures and allow us to study life history (such as birth and death rates). Sea Watch currently has a catalogue of approximately 500 bottlenose dolphins from the Irish Sea.
The advantages of this practice are that it is non-invasive, cost effective and that it can be used either during boat-based or land-based surveys. However, the accuracy of the results revolves around the quality of the photographs which, in turn, depends on the quality of photographic equipment.
Sea Watch has been conducting land-watches from New Quay pier for many years. These watches serve a dual purpose: data collection and raising public awareness. On occasion, dolphins come very close to the pier wall allowing us to take photo-ID shots using our current lens. However, the majority of the time the animals are too far for us to collect this data with our current equipment. Sea Watch misses out on valuable information and these dolphins go un-identified.
The project will revolve around the photo-identification of all bottlenose dolphins seen from land-watches on New Quay pier. Volunteers on land-watch are equipped with a powerful telephoto lens enabling photo-ID to be conducted on all dolphins within the bay. The data gathered using this lens will be included in Sea Watch’s analyses.