On the far west coast of Wales, our Special Area of Conservation is one of only two locations in the UK (the Moray Firth in Scotland being the other) to share our marine environment with a resident population of bottlenose dolphins. Spread between the counties of Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Gwynedd, the inshore waters of this beautiful bay are home to Europe’s largest population of these charismatic dolphins, with a total of around 300 animals.
You don’t have to be at sea to get a view of these local celebrity cetaceans. You can often see them as they swim close to the coastline – the cliffs at Mwnt are a great viewing spot. The photo below was taken from Mwnt.
The finest views, though, are to be had when exploring this rich coastline by boat and our expert skippers know all the top locations to maximise your chances of a memorable encounter. June to September are the best months for dolphin watching in the UK, though they are sighted throughout the year, thanks to our resident population. During the summer, the locals are joined by transient pods who swell the numbers, increasing the chances of an exciting encounter. The calmer summer seas also make these marine animals easier to spot.
Sightings of wild animals are never guaranteed, but with the beauty of our idyllic coast, exciting sea caves and wealth of other marine wildlife from Atlantic grey seal to stunning seabirds, our visitors never leave us disappointed. That said, due to a combination of our location and the expertise of our skippers, we are fortunate to enjoy sightings on between 60-95% of our trips, depending on the duration. (Our wildlife watching boat trips run from 1 – 2 hours. Click here for details.)
The average length of a bottlenose dolphin is around 3.5 metres, about twice the size of harbour porpoises which are also seen in Cardigan Bay, though they are comparatively shy and tend to steer clear of their larger cousins.
We are privileged to liaise and cooperate with Sea Watch Foundation, a marine life conservation organisation working within the SAC, and adhere strictly to the WiSe Code, Ceredigion Marine Code and the Pembrokeshire Marine Code to protect the bottlenose dolphins in particular and the marine environment in general. We are committed to promoting the sustainable use of the waters of Cardigan Bay. We never approach the dolphins that we see, but they often come very close to the boat of their own accord. These charismatic characters can be very playful, and some seem to enjoy leaping out of the water, regularly giving passengers a memorable show.
The photo below was taken by a Sea Watch volunteer whilst doing research on one of our boat trips. You can join the conservation effort, too, by downloading their app and reporting any sightings that you enjoy on your trip with us to be added to their national database.
As we see the dolphins so regularly, we get to know some individuals by sight. They can live for up to fifty years, so we have known a few local characters for quite a while. One local lady, “Top Notch” is a regular sighting, often with her latest calf.
A pod of bottlenose dolphins will quite often stay in the same area for 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.
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Dolphin watching offers a wonderful, safe and exhilarating experience that is enjoyed by all ages and abilities. Our disability-friendly boarding means our Bay to Remember boat trips are accessible for nearly everyone to enjoy.