Farmhouse holiday cottages in a tranquil rural hideaway Ceredigion, West Wales.

Bottlenose Dolphins in Cardigan Bay

27 Mins from our holiday cottages
16 Miles from our holiday cottages

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, Patent Slip Building, New Quay, Ceredigion
SA45 9PS

Tel: 01545 560 032

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Bottlenose Dolphins in Cardigan Bay

Introduction and recognition
The information has been written to help visitors to West Wales to be able see and appreciate bottlenose dolphins more easily.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is probably the most the most well-known and popular of the dolphin family as it is the one we see on the TV, movies, and "aquatic shows”.  They are grey in colour with few markings and a pale underside.  They grow up to 4 metres long and 650 kg in weight. A human adult male is generally half the length and one eighth of the weight. The distinctive bottlenose, streamlined and beak like gives rise to its name.
Bottlenose dolphins can be seen from the shore at New Quay, off Aberporth point and from the headland at Mwnt.  Boats trips often see dolphins, but sightings are not guaranteed. There are a variety of trips available from New Quay and Cardigan.
There are many other members of the dolphin family distributed around the world and some are seen in West Wales. 
Often The Harbour Porpoise is seen here, typically it is about half the size of a Bottlenose Dolphin, it does not have the distinctive beak like bottlenose and its dorsal fin (the one on its back) is stubby and triangular.
Also seen are Common Dolphins (despite the name less often), these are bottlenose sized but have a distinctive white chest and throat.  They tend to be seen in deeper water further off shore.
More rarely seen are Risso Dolphins which are recognised by their blunt very square shaped head.

Dolphins are mammals not fish
Dolphins like seals and whales are mammals. What is the difference?
• Breath air
• Give birth to live young
• They suckle their young with milk
• Breath through a blow hole and have lungs
• Their tail fins are horizontal
• They move their tails up and down
• They are warm blooded and need to stay warm (36C)
• Use gills to extract oxygen from the water
• Lay eggs.
• Have gills
• Their tail fins are vertical
• They move their tails from side to side
• They are cold blooded and do not need to keep a constant body temperature
Behaviour: (source )
Bottlenose Dolphins can swim down to 260 m. but need access to air from the surface so usually are shallow divers and stay close to the surface. Bottlenose Dolphins can stay up to 15 minutes under water but usually dive only for a few minutes.

Bottlenose dolphins can swim 5 to 12 kilometres per hour and reach speeds up to 32 km/h.

Bottlenose Dolphins use a technique called echolocation to find food and navigate. This technique involves sending ultrasounds through the water which bounce back to the dolphin and are detected by the dolphin in an organ called mellon which interpret them like a sonar.

Bottlenose Dolphins are social beings they are often seen in family groups and pods.  They cooperate to get food and work in teams to hunt other fish. They also cooperate when giving birth to and raising their young (calves), often one dolphin helps the mother to take care of the calves, very much like a midwife

Bottlenose Dolphins are warm-blooded internal temperature is around 36 degrees (humans are 37C). To keep this temperature they are surrounded by a thick layer of fat called "blubber” just below the skin.
The average bottlenose dolphin brain weighs 1500-1600 grams compared with human brains, between 1200-1300 grams. The bottlenose dolphin brain is larger, a clear indication that dolphins have at least the potential of higher intelligence.

Bottlenose Dolphins are great communicators, they can make a unique signature whistle that may help them recognize each other. Dolphins even make noises loud enough to stun other fish.

Habitat requirements: Bottlenose dolphins live in temperate and tropical waters worldwide (surface water temperatures of 10° to 32°C.
Unsurprisingly they are more common where there is a good source of food.
They do not like noisy environments and are threatened by pollution and fishing with nets.
Feeding: Bottlenose dolphins eat a wide variety of foods including fish, squid and crustaceans. An adult eats 7-14 kilos of food each day.
They do not use their teeth to chew their food. They swallow them whole, head first to avoid their fins sticking in their throats.

Breeding: Bottlenose dolphins produce one offspring (calf) every two to three years. Females are sexually mature at 5 - 7 years and males at 10 - 12 years.
Calves take milk from their mother for 12 - 18 months, and stay with their mothers for up to three years learning how to catch fish and other important life skills.

Distribution: There are two bottlenose dolphin ecotypes (forms): coastal and offshore.
It is the coastal type that are generally seen in Cardigan Bay. This type have smaller bodies and larger flippers for increased manoeuvrability. They are frequently seen in harbours, bays and estuaries. In the UK most sightings are in Cardigan Bay and the east coast of Scotland.

Population monitoring: This is done by spotting them from the shore and boats.  Individual dolphins can be identified by their markings on their dorsal fins, notches nicks and their shape. Spotters record position seen, times numbers of dolphins seen and when possible take photos so that individuals can be identified.

Conservation Status and legislation requirements:  According to Seaworld (, dolphins are not an endangered species. Threats to them are according to WWF net fishing, noise from shipping and pollution. They are protected by a wide range of international, European and British legislation and guidelines relating to sustainable fishing.
Mick Baross July 201427





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