Dolphin Watching

Dolphin Watching Cardigan Bay

Cardigan Bay is the best place in Europe for dolphin watching. It is on the far west coast of Wales spread between the counties of Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Gwynedd. The inshore waters of Ceredigion are home to Europe's largest population of Bottlenose Dolphins. The area we operate in is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and is one of only two places in the UK hosting a resident population of bottlenose dolphins, with a total of around 300 animals. The other UK area is the Moray Firth in Scotland which has a smaller population.

In Cardigan Bay, the best place to see bottlenose dolphins is in the area between Cardigan Island in the south and Aberporth further north. You don't have to be at sea and can often see them near to the coastline, with the cliffs at Mwnt – about half way between Aberporth and Cardigan Island - being a great viewing spot. The photo below is taken from Mwnt:

bottlenose dolphins taken off Mwnt

The best time of year for dolphin watching is between June and September, although they are sighted throughout the year. It’s much easier to spot dolphins in calm weather and that’s one reason why they are less often seen in winter. Also, a greater number of dolphins stay in the bay during summer, as transient pods move through the area, peaking in late September and October.

Going on a boat trip gives you the best chance of seeing the dolphins. In 2012 we managed to see bottlenose dolphins on nine out of ten ‘extended’ one and a half hour explorer tours. On the one hour tours we spotted them on five out of ten trips. The reason for seeing dolphins more often on the longer trips is that we can spend time exploring the coastline further north between Mwnt and Aberporth. All our boat trips start from near to Cardigan, and the one hour tours take us as far as Mwnt.

We adhere strictly to both the WiSe and Ceredigion County Council codes of conduct for boat trip operators and although we don't approach the dolphins, they often come very close to the boat of their own accord. Take a look at our gallery for a few examples. They can be very playful and seem to enjoy leaping out of the water, regularly giving passengers a great show. The photo below was taken by a SeaWatch volunteer whilst doing research on one of our trips.

At other times they can be in a more "lazy" mood but are always an amazing sight. The average length of a bottlenose dolphin is about 3.5 meters. This makes them about twice the size of harbour porpoises, which you can also spot in Cardigan Bay. However, porpoises are seen less often and stay clear of the dolphins. We also see grey seals on our A Bay to Remember boat trips.

Bottlenose dolphins are the most common and well known type of dolphin. One was the star of the television series Flipper. They live in small groups called pods. The typical size of pod in the Cardigan Bay area is about ten. However, pods can be as large as thirty.

Quite often a pod will stay in the same area quite a while. So, if we see them on one trip, we are often blessed by their company for several hours over a few separate trips.

As we see the dolphins so regularly we get to know some of the individual dolphins by sight. They can live for up to fifty years. For example, a regular sighting is of a dolphin called ‘Top Notch’, often with her calf.

Always remember that these are wild animals and have a mind of their own. We always try our best but cannot guarantee seeing them on any trip. However, it’s always a pleasure to see them. Dolphin Watching is suitable for all ages and our disabled friendly boarding means our Bay to Remember boat trips are accessible for nearly everyone.


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Our Dolphin Watching Wildlife Tours Depart March — October

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A Bay To Remember

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