Spotting dolphins can be challenging, especially when the sea is rough and you’re not sure whether you saw a dolphin or in fact it was just a weird looking wave. But there is one method which many marine mammal observers use to help them spot dolphins, and that is to search the skies for northern gannets.
Northern gannets are one of the larger sea birds found in Cardigan Bay, with a wing span of around 1 meter. They are a striking bird and can be clearly identified from a distance. They have angular wings with black tips, their tail is pointed, and they have a yellow tinge on the back of their neck. If you are lucky and see them closer, you will notice that they have a pale blue beak. They only come to land to breed and will nest in colonies, usually laying 1 egg per breeding pair. They nest in such large numbers that the land looks white from a distance. More than two thirds of the world’s population nest in western Scotland and Wales but can be seen offshore across most of the UK.
Here in New Quay, we commonly see gannets circling dolphins when they are fishing. Gannets are opportunistic feeders and dive at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour into the sea to catch their prey. They can dive to depths from 11 meters up to 60 meters and will eat discarded or injured fish left by the dolphins. They are not fussy eaters and swallow their prey before reaching the surface of the water.
So next time you are dolphin spotting, look out for gannets as they have been found to follow the dolphins in search for their next meal.
By Emily Grout, Research Intern