Day out: Cardigan Bay, Ceredigion

Watch in awe from the deck of an expert-guided boat trip and see one of our most beloved marine mammals leaping, cavorting and racing through the water, says Julie Brominicks

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About 200 bottlenose dolphins use Cardigan Bay for feeding, socialising and nurturing their young. Unlike those in other schools, they are safe here from predators such as orcas and sharks. In winter they can travel long distances, but in summer they return to the bay. Bottlenose dolphins are frequently sighted around New Quay, and you can see them most clearly by boat.

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Cardigan Bay Dolphin Research Boats offer two-, four- and eight-hour trips. A hydrophone allows you to listen to underwater noise  and tune into the dolphins’ echolocation communication system of clicks and whistles.

One of the boats also carries a volunteer from the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, who will record the dolphins’ location, identity and behaviour. The research and data is shared widely, so the dolphins may be better understood and protected more effectively. Following a code of conduct, the boats do not chase the dolphins.

Flirting with dolphins

Nevertheless, researchers have observed that the boats that stick most closely to the rules have the best dolphin interactions. When left alone, the dolphins will come to the boat. “It’s a bit like flirting,”  says Steve Hartley, founder of the Dolphin Survey Boat Trips. “If we keep our distance they’ll come and check us out. But we never pursue them. They are wild animals.”

The dolphins don’t always show up, but they usually do. Atlantic grey seals and harbour porpoises are also frequently seen. The shorter boat trips follow a designated route past breeding colonies of razorbills and guillemots.

The four-hour trips are more like a safari – you go where the dolphins might be. “You get tuned into it,” says Steve, “the barest ripple or splash – I’ll see a white dot on the horizon and I know it’s gannets diving for fish, so they might be there.”

But you don’t have to go far to see the bottlenose dolphins. They are visible from New Quay almost daily throughout the summer. With its terraced houses, bistros and boats, New Quay is a quintessential fishing village. The stone harbour pier was built when New Quay was a thriving port, and now it’s a perfect dolphin viewing spot. I’ve watched them from here several times as they race, cavort and leap clean out of the sea in resplendent, jubilant arcs.

Boat trips

Hop aboard a small boat – limited to just 12 passengers – out across Cardigan Bay on regular trips at lengths to suit your day out. www.dolphinsurveyboattrips.co.uk

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The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre

Located on the waterfront, the CBMWC celebrates its 20th birthday this year. As well as providing research and education, the visitor centre is open to the public seven days a week. With activities, exhibits and an aquarium, it’s a great place to learn more about the wildlife in the bay.

image © Discover Ceredigion