A Day at the Seaside – New Quay (Part Two)

Manx shearwaters, Cardigan Bay
Manx shearwaters, Cardigan Bay

Back in summer 1989 the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior (IIRC) made a surprise visit to Aberystwyth. Their intention was to publicise the presence of a resident group of bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay – one of only two in British waters. I had seen dolphins at Tresaith whilst working on the footpath project but didn’t realise their significance. At a packed meeting in the town Greenpeace explained that its constitution prevented them from setting up local activist groups but they wanted local people – i.e. us – to take on that role for them. At the time I was a member of a fairly active Friends of the Earth group in Aberystwyth; many of us were at the meeting and we made an almost immediate decision to jump ship from FoE and Friends of Cardigan Bay was quickly formed. Over the next few years  FoCB activities had a really positive effect on the marine environment, with perhaps our biggest victory being persuading Welsh Water to install a state-of-the-art sewage works at Aberystwyth, rather than building an extra-long pipe. As well as the campaigning aspect we did dolphin photo-id work and winter sea-duck and diver surveys, and produced a membership magazine, tee-shirts and other nick-nicks among other things. Exciting times! I left Friends of Cardigan Bay after about ten years and although it now still exists on paper, with a completely different membership, it is more or less moribund.

Bottlenose dolphins off Mwnt
Bottlenose dolphins off Mwnt

So me and bottlenose dolphins go back a long way and my day-trip from New Quay with the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife people was another trip down memory lane. It is fair to say, however, that the marine wildlife didn’t really play ball. We chugged out north-westwards  until we were several miles off Aberystwyth but for long periods of time virtually nothing was visible. We came across a few rafts of manx shearwaters out in the Bay and I was able to get a couple of decent shots of them as they flew (see above). There was the occasional gannet, a few auks with young, and one storm petrel was seen. It wasn’t until we turned back south and returned closer to the shore, several hours later, that we began to come across dolphins. According to Steve Hartley, the skipper, there were currently a number of family groups regularly seen off the southern Ceredigion coast, and we came across several of them. But it was a rather restrained performance from the dolphins. They did on occasion bowride with the boat and they half-heartedly leaped a couple a couple of times and that was it. The researchers on board were able to do some photo-id and several young animals were identified, but for those hoping for the spectacular – ie everybody – it was just a little bit disappointing.

This was a far cry from the day a group of us us went out from Aberystwyth with the Greenpeace researchers on their first visit, to learn the rudiments of photo-id. Now that was a real dolphin extravaganza. My memories are rather hazy now but countless animals were attracted to the boat and went through the whole repertoire of dolphin behaviour. It was extraordinary. But hey…you win some and you lose some.

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