The ongoing census of Cardigan Bay’s bottlenose dolphins has so far recorded 270 unique individuals. Some are frequently seen, others on just one occasion. Identification is based on a close-up photo of the dorsal fin and, on the day I visited, one of the volunteers was trying to match a recent photo on the screen of his PC while flicking through the A4 file of likely suspects. It looked a close fit with 007, but not quite. Maybe it was another dolphin or maybe the markings on its fin had changed?
I asked Steve Hartley, manager of the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, whether things were improving for the dolphins? ‘We knew we had a lot but not as many as we now know. As for whether the population is growing, we need another 5 years of research before we can make that sort of conclusion.’
Most of the photos are taken from the survey boat which Steve captains, following a consistent set of survey routes. Passengers pay for the boat trips according to the length of the trip, generally 2 hours or 4 hours, sometimes longer. Along the way Steve and his research assistant point out other wildlife such as the harbour porpoise, grey seals, occasional sunfish and sea birds. The most bizarre thing he ever saw was a massive leatherback turtle ‘It must have been the size of a pool table and gave me a backward glance over its shoulder. By the time I’d reached for my camera it had disappeared amongst the waves.’ Trips are run to a strict code of conduct, the main principle of which is to leave the creatures in peace, and all local operators are supposed to abide by this code.
The boat pays its way as a commercial venture with the spin off being a valuable set of research information for analysis by a team of volunteers back in the wildlife centre. The ground floor of this grade II listed building, just up from New Quay’s lifeboat station, is a free of charge visitor centre with displays, an aquarium, and a volunteer run shop. Steve was quick to point out that the creatures in the aquarium were only being borrowed. At the end of the summer they would be returned, well fed and in good health, to the sea they came from.
No matter how worthy your cause you still have to pay the bills and the centre is about to launch an Adopt a Dolphin campaign. What a fantastic Christmas present. The idea of adopting a dolphin is not new so I asked Steve what would be different about theirs? ‘Firstly it’s not any old dolphin but a really Welsh, Cardigan Bay dolphin. Secondly you don’t have to drive to the other end of Britain, you can pop over to New Quay and go out to see your dolphin.’
If you’d like to know more about the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre call them on 01545 560 032 or visit the website (not yet updated to include the adoptions).
Click here for a short YouTube of Steve Hartley explaining the adoption scheme.
NB in case of any confusion the centre is NOT involved in tagging dolphins. They only take photos.