The Dolphins of Cardigan
who come to stay in Aberaeron or New Quay are interested in seeing wild
Dolphins, for in all of Britain, this area is probably the
best place to see them. In the New Quay / Llangrannog area they can
be seen from the shore and from boats which take groups out from New
Quay on a regular basis. One cannot guarantee to see the Dolphins
on a given day, but the chances are good for the dedicated Dolphin
watcher. Information on sightings can be found at The
Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife site. Dolphins are best observed on days when the sea is calm, as they are
much easier to spot then.
Over the last few years Dolphins have undergone a massive
change in the public's perception. From mere sideshow attractions in the
seventies when, as inmates of various Seaquaria they were taught to do tricks,
they have today attained an almost mystical significance. Sick
children are now taken to swim with Dolphins, and amazing healing
powers have been claimed in the media. This however, is not possible
in Britain, where the law prohibits approaching wild Dolphin.
the truth of this, Dolphins are now regarded with far more respect
than in the past, and as a consequence there is far more interest in
this animal group.
Boat trips go out daily from the pier at New
The Dolphins come to the surface to breathe
a large part in this change of perception must have been brought
about by the TV series 'Flipper', in which a Dolphin becomes the friend
and helper of a young boy in his various fictional adventures.
Subsequent films such as 'Free Willy' - featuring the related Orca
or Killer Whale, have also worked to change the
public's perception and awaken the interest in Dolphins and their
there has been an awakened interest in the Dolphins of Cardigan Bay,
and these animals are now regarded as a tourist attraction with
special Dolphin watching boat trips going out of New Quay on a
regular basis. There is an ongoing debate about the effect of such
trips. While they undoubtedly help to raise the public's awareness of
Dolphins and their conservation, there are those who believe the boat
trips disturb the animals and are not beneficial.
Bay is one of two important locations off the British coast for
Bottlenose Dolphins. The other area is Scotland's Moray Firth, which
supports a population of around 130 animals. A survey by the
University of Aberdeen has suggested that there may be as many as
127 Dolphins off the Cardigan coast, although other researchers have
suggested that this number may well have been inflated by migratory
Dolphins in the Irish sea joining up temporarily with local groups.
One wonders how many Dolphins may have been resident in the past
when fish stocks were much higher. An Admiralty survey undertaken in
1748 notes that the herring industry in Cardigan bay employed 97
small sloops, 38 of which were employed between Aberaeron and New
Quay. The record catch of herring was made on the night of October
5th 1745 when 47 boats of about 12 tons netted just under one and a
half million fish, a total of 1,100 barrels!
certainly two major local groups of Dolphins, one off New Quay and the
other off Llangrannog. Although these Dolphins may be seen locally
throughout the year, they have also been observed off the Irish coast.
Timings of these observations suggest they can swim across to
Ireland in just a few hours. Our Dolphins are Bottle-nosed
Dolphins - scientific name Tursiops truncatus, just one of
thirty-two species of Dolphin world-wide belonging to a family of
marine mammals called the Delphinidae that also includes the Pilot
Whale and the Killer Whale or Orca.
have demonstrated a wide range of sounds and are believed to have
a unique 'language' of their own. They emit clicking sounds or
whistles almost constantly. The clicks are short pulses of about
300 sounds per second, emitted from a mechanism located just below
the blowhole. They are used for the echolocation of objects and
are resonated forwards and amplified by an organ called the melon.
This makes up much of the bulge in the Dolphin's forehead just
behind its 'beak'. Echoes from these clicks are received at the
rear of the lower jaw and transmitted to the middle ear. The
Dolphin's echolocation system is similar to that of a bat,
enabling the dolphin to navigate in complete darkness and to
detect its main prey, fish and squid. The whistles come from
deeper in the larynx and are used to communicate alarm and
dolphins live in temperate and tropical waters, many of them
staying within 100 miles of land. Many live in bays and
protected inlets, where the water is relatively shallow.
Bottle-nosed dolphins range as far south as Argentina and
South Africa and as far north as Norway in the eastern
mate in spring and early summer with the gestation lasting from 10
to 12 months. The females almost always give birth to one calf at a
time. After the calf is born, it immediately swims to the surface
for its first breath of air. The females nurse and protect their
young for more than a year with the males taking no part in caring
for the young.
in common with many other marine creatures living close to the coast
are threatened with pollution and degradation of their environment.
Concerns include sewage, dumping at sea, oil exploration using
sonar methods and harassment from pleasure boats whose owners try to
get too close to the Dolphins.
are 'top predators'. At the top end of the food chain they can easily
accumulate high concentrations of any environmental
non-biodegradable pollutants ingested or absorbed by species lower
down the food chain.
In the light of these concerns, local residents
presented a petition to the Ceredigion Council, and in 1992, the
'Heritage Coast' area was created from New Quay to Tresaith. Since
1996, the sea area adjacent to the Heritage Coast has been designated
a Special Area of Conservation under the European Habitats Directive.
A number of species and features, were taken
into consideration in creating this area. These include:
Bottlenose Dolphins, Tursiops truncatus
The Grey Seal,
The River Lamprey, Lampetra fluviatilis
The Sea Lamprey, Petromyzon marinus
Sandbanks slightly covered by sea water
all the time
Reefs - both rocky and
Submerged or partially submerged sea caves
are now nine organisations with statutory responsibilities for the
site, which are working together, as ‘relevant authorities’
(RAs). Their aim is to establish a scheme of site management for the
Dolphins are very intelligent
and supremely adapted for their environment, but however intelligent
they may be, they have absolutely no way of influencing their
future. For years they have suffered directly from the misguided
acts of Mankind seeking profit. Now they are threatened indirectly
from a whole range of human activities. Their future as a species
lies with us. We can only hope that common sense and a genuine
feeling for the other species with which we share this planet will
prevail, and that the Dolphins will survive.
© Rod Attrill 2009