More than 1,200 separate dolphin sightings were made during the boat surveys in 2009
During the summer, staff and volunteers at the
Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre (CBMWC)
based in New Quay sent in regular reports of marine wildlife sightings in Cardigan Bay about their land-based survey work and aboard the vessel Sulaire. Kate Redman of CBMWC looks back at what happened in 2009.
The 2009 field season is finally over and our boat, the Sulaire, is now in dry dock out of the way of winter's worst weather.
All in all, the season wasn't too bad compared to last year, when, from about mid summer onwards we were buffeted by strong northerly winds and non-stop rain.
This year was still quite damp but, thankfully, the wind stayed pretty much in the south.
This meant that instead of being stuck doing short one-and-a-half-hour trips around the bay, as we did last year, we could carry on doing two-hour trips throughout the season until the end of October.
The 2009 season began in mid April amid the return of the Kittiwakes, Razorbills, and Gillemots to their breeding colonies on and around Bird's Rock.
Bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic grey seals were seen regularly throughout the season and several four-hour trips led to some good dolphin encounters with, occasionally, groups of nearly 20 animals.
These long encounters lead to good photographing conditions and plenty of photos were taken for this year's photo ID catalogue.
We are currently going through these photos and quite a few old faces have reappeared amongst the dolphins this year.
Several animals not snapped since 2005 have appeared along with the familiar faces (or rather fins) of the likes of Nick, Sue and the newly named, Connie. Altogether 1,243 separate dolphin sightings were made during the boat surveys this year.
The dolphin's cousin, the harbour porpoise, was also seen throughout this season but not nearly in the same numbers as the dolphins.
Because of their shy nature and their small size they are not easy to spot, especially in a heavy sea.
Still, 170 separate sightings over the season is not bad going. On a couple of trips these usually elusive animals came close up to the Sulaire, giving the visitors a rare opportunity to see these tiny cetaceans close up.
Kittiwakes, razorbills, and guillemots returned to their breeding colonies
Seals and harbour porpoise sunfish were again seen during the summer months. Five of these odd-looking fish were sighted during the boat surveys whilst a further two were seen by volunteers on land watch.
September and October was the seal breeding season and several white fluffy seal pups were spotted on the rocks and in the caves around Cwmtydu.
On one boat trip a curious young seal, not long out of its fluffy coat, came straight up to the Sulaire and swam right round the boat checking out the tourists on board.
Land-based surveying, from New Quay pier, was a lot more comfortable this year, thanks to the change in weather and the volunteers weren't threatened with a drenching every time they headed out of the centre.
Land watch was missing two noticeable characters this year. Wendy (aka Rita) and her boisterous calf Barry were seen nearly every day last year, usually foraging out by the reef buoy.
Even in the roughest of weather a sighting of dolphins could practically be guaranteed thanks to these two.
It wasn't just their regularity that allowed us to know it was Wendy and Barry out there all the time, it was because Wendy was such an identifiable animal.
Wendy was suffering from an unknown illness that caused her to lose body condition through malnourishment, which meant she may have been suffering from a condition known as 'peanut head'.
On one boat trip a curious young seal came straight up to the Sulaire
This condition caused a noticeable dip in her head just in front of her fin and allowed us to confidently identify her, even when far away.
Going into the winter of 2008, we were quite worried about her.
Would she survive the winter and would we ever see her and Barry again? Well, the good news is she did and it took us a while to find out.
We had to wait for our first lot of photo ID shots, taken when out on the boat trips, to be downloaded.
Amongst them was Wendy. The tiny nick in the base of her fin was the main identifying feature as the dip in her head had all but vanished.
Not only had she survived the winter but she was almost back to full condition and with Barry still in tow.
She still swims a bit stiffly but we're all glad she looks to be on the road to full recovery.
The downside of this is that although adult and calf pairs have been seen out by the reef buoy we have no way of telling if it's Wendy and Barry.
Despite this, dolphin spotting from land was good this year with 1,156 separate sightings of bottlenose dolphins.
Harbour porpoise were a rarer sighting from the pier, compared to the dolphins, and only six animals were seen in New Quay bay this year.
October was the best month for watching bottlenose dolphins off the pier.
A combination of regular fish shoals in the bay and a rise in social activity in the dolphins lead to large, boisterous groups being sighted off the pier; leaping, splashing and chasing fish.
A lull in the weather half-way though October provided tourists with some lovely spotting opportunities with blue skies and a sea that was like a mirror.
Seals were also regular visitors to the bay, especially during their breeding season of September and October.
The dolphin survey boat trips also enabled sightings of fish
During these months the adult males are staking their territories where the breeding females are currently nursing their pups.
Only the biggest and best males will secure these territories leaving the youngsters and losers to wander around the coast out of harms way, quite often popping up suddenly in front of the volunteers on the pier.
We had some rare visitors in the bay on 20 June. On 28 June, down south in Pembrokeshire, a super pod of common dolphins gathered, possibly to feed on abundant fish.
So spectacular was this sight it made the BBC news. On 20 June a small group of five common dolphins were seen travelling across the bay by the lucky volunteer who happened to be on land watch that day.
These animals may well have become part of the super pod seen further south.
The boat may be out of the water and the majority of the volunteers gone but that doesn't mean the dolphins have left. They're still out there and, weather permitting, can still be spotted from New Quay pier or from the coastal path along the cliffs.